The impact of today’s Supreme Court decision on military commissions goes well beyond Guantanamo. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force — issued by Congress in the days after 9/11 — is not a blank check for the administration. From the syllabus:
Neither the AUMF [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] nor the DTA [Detainee Treatment Act] can be read to provide specific, overriding authorization for the commission convened to try Hamdan. Assuming the AUMF activated the President’s war powers, see Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U. S. 507, and that those powers include authority to convene military commissions in appropriate circumstances, see, e.g., id., at 518, there is nothing in the AUMF’s text or legislative history even hinting that Congress intended to expand or alter the authorization set forth in UCMJ Art. 21.
The point here is that the AUMF does not authorize activity that was not specifically contemplated in the text or legislative history. This is incredibly significant. The administration is relying on the AUMF to justify its warrantless wiretapping program. Here’s Alberto Gonzales on 12/19/05:
Our position is, is that the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes that other authorization, that other statute by Congress, to engage in this kind of signals intelligence.
The Bush administration doesn’t argue that warrantless wiretapping was something specifically contemplated in the text or by Congress. Rather, the administration argues that it is implied as part of a broad authorization to “use all necessary and appropriate force.”
The Supreme Court has rejected that expansive interpretation. It’s a huge blow to the administration’s legal rationale for warrantless wiretapping.