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Detainees can challenge, court finds 5-4

From NBC's Pete Williams, at the U.S. Supreme Court
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In its opinion today, granting rights to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, the court admits it is doing something it has never before been done -- finding that non-US citizens, detained by the U.S. in foreign territory, have constitutional rights. But the court said, there's never been anything like Guantanamo in U.S. history.

VIDEO: Enemy or not, the Supreme Court has ruled that foreign terror suspects have the constitutional right to challenge their detentions. NBC's Pete Williams reports.

The court's five-member majority also says that for now, things at Guantanamo will go on as they are, that the current military commission systems there "remain intact."

But what this does mean is that all the detainees there have the right to get lawyers who can go into the federal courthouse here in Washington and argue that each of them is wrongly held. 

So today's ruling is not a get out of jail free card, nor does it change the situation on the ground in Guantanamo. But for the first time since these detainees were captured and transferred to Guantanamo, they will now have the legal -- constitutional -- right to get federal judges in the U.S. to review their cases. For that reason, today's ruling is a game-changer.

Pentagon to respond; has said ruling would be a setback
From NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, at The Pentagon
The Pentagon plans to issue a response later to today's Supreme Court decisions which say detainees held at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts.

Pentagon officials had said such a ruling would be a serious setback to the military commission hearings, and would essentially freeze the trial process for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 4 other 9/11 defendents arraigned only last week in a mlitary commission hearing at GTMO.

Perspective from the Senate
From NBC's Ken Strickland
, on Capitol Hill
In September of last year, a majority of senators voted to allow Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention in court, similar to today's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. But because Senate rules required 60 votes for the measure to proceed -- proponents had 54 votes -- the amendment died.

Leading the charge to grant the detainees habeas corpus rights were Sens. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and and Arlen Specter (R-PA), the bipartisan leaders of the Judiciary Committee. Other republicans who joined the Democrats were Dick Lugar (R-IN), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Olympia Snowe (R-MA) and John Sununu (R-NH).