Kudos to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for overturning a lower court’s ruling according to which some detainees being held at the Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan were entitled to habeas corpus hearings. Federal Judge John Bates’s ruling had applied only to non-Afghanis, but it is not hard to imagine that if his ruling had been allowed to stand, it would have led to the extension of criminal-justice protections to all suspected terrorists held in American detention facilities overseas.
That would have made it extraordinarily hard to wage war on terrorism, or whatever it’s being called this week. It is simply impossible to apply domestic standards of civil liberties to a foreign battlefield — not if you want to be able to defeat ruthless organizations like al-Qaeda. The Obama administration deserves credit for recognizing that and for fighting Judge Bates’s misguided decision. Credit also goes, of course, to the three-judge panel of the D.C. court for unanimously overturning his ruling.
The fact that the appeals-court decision came from a conservative judge (David Sentelle) and two liberals (Harry Edwards and David Tatel) means that it is unlikely to be overturned by the full court or by the Supreme Court. That’s a victory for the good guys: the men and women of the military, intelligence, and law-enforcement services, who risk their lives to capture dangerous extremists and whose work would be for naught if the courts created a revolving door for detainees.