It is impossible to have a meaningful debate over whether a civilian court or a military commission is a more appropriate forum for trying terrorism suspects so long as serious questions remain over whether the commissions may constitutionally exercise jurisdiction over particular offenses and/or offenders. And yet, although a number of defendants have attempted to challenge the jurisdiction of the military commissions – especially under the MCA – none of their cases have managed to produce a decision on the merits from any court higher than the Court of Military Commission Review (CMCR). Instead, the federal courts have generally relied on ‘abstention’ doctrine, holding that challenges to the commissions, including to their jurisdiction, can – and should – be resolved on post-conviction appeal. … [T]he time has long since passed for a careful explication of the issues, the relevant precedents, and the most likely answers.
- Stephen I. Vladeck is a Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law, where his teaching and research focus on federal jurisdiction, constitutional law (especially the separation of powers), national security law, and international criminal law. A nationally recognized expert on the role of the federal courts in the war on terrorism, he was part of the legal team that successfully challenged the Bush Administration’s use of military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006), and has co-authored amicus briefs in a host of other lawsuits challenging the U.S. government’s surveillance and detention of terrorism suspects. Vladeck has also drafted reports on related issues for a number of organizations, including the First Amendment Center, the Constitution Project, and the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security.
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