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The Supreme Court ducks Justices won't rule, at least for now, on a basic right denied to detainees

Two major reasons not to go to someone's rescue: They are not really in trouble -- or they already are dead.

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that it would not, for now, come to the rescue of The Great Writ, also known as habeas corpus. That's the right of all human beings held in custody to appear before a competent judge and demand to have it proven, at least to the judge's satisfaction, that there are good reasons for that person to continue to be held.

Time will tell whether that principal is not in need of rescue -- or already beyond hope.

The Bush administration wants that basic principal of Anglo-American law considered a casualty of the war on terror, at least as it applies to the 385 men who have been held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for upwards of five years now, without charge, without trial, without hope.

Twice, in similar cases, the high court has pushed back the administration's unprincipled view of the law as something to be cast aside whenever it becomes inconvenient to the administration's purposes.

In the case considered Monday, which turns on a specific act of Congress that granted Bush the power he previously tried to give to himself, the court ducked.

Four justices have to agree to take the case before it can be heard by the Supreme Court. In the case of 45 prisoners seeking to challenge the Military Commissions Act of 2006, only three justices went on the record as wanting to consider the matter. Four made no comment. And two, Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony Kennedy, took the unusual step of explaining why they didn't think the case was ripe for their review.

It isn't, they said, that the law stripping whomever the government labels as an enemy combatant of any chance of appealing his detention is right or wrong. It's just that it hasn't been fully applied yet. Once it has been, once the Gitmo inmates challenging their detentions jump through all the hoops offered in that law -- and there aren't very many -- the top court may reconsider.

This immediate outcome is frightening for those who hold the basic human rights of all people as something that rises above, as well as inspires, the Constitution of the United States. But the court has not, yet, closed the coffin lid on habeas corpus.

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