Hamdan v. Rumsfeld has the potential to go down in history as one of the most significant Supreme Court decisions of the new century. That is not because the Court trimmed the power of the executive: That's been done before. Recall when Nixon was ordered to turn over tapes, and when Truman's seizure of the steel mills was struck down.
What makes the Hamdan case so significant is not the limit placed on the executive branch, although that is important. The case's true significance comes of the Supreme Court's acknowledgement that we are bound by international law, in this case, the Geneva Convention. Common Article 3 of the Convention requires humane treatment of combatants.
This is, indeed, a triumph of the rule of law.
Absent from this morning's commentary on the decision was the chest-thumping of those who feel that any acknowledgement of international law somehow diminishes our role in the world. We are something less than sovereign if we acknowledge our commitments in the world beyond our borders.
America, love it or leave it is merely a campaign slogan. The fact remains that we are part of a much larger world in which international norms and mores place tangible limits on acceptable behavior by states. We do not diminish ourselves by honoring these limits, indeed, we become larger, we become part of a world community in which we do more than issue proclamations and ultimatums.
Do the detainees at Guantanamo have rights? Yes, under international law, and we are bound to honor them. That is a huge victory for the rule of law in a troubled world.