PEMBERTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - John McCain on Friday lambasted the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant greater rights to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, aligning himself with George W. Bush at a time when the unpopular president is seen as a political liability to his would-be Republican successor.
McCain, the Arizona senator who has wrapped up his party’s White House nomination, has sought to distance himself from Bush, highlighting their differences on climate change policy and the administration’s initial handling of the Iraq war.
But both men essentially condemned the top court’s ruling on Thursday allowing Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who now number about 270, to go before U.S. federal judges to challenge their years-long detention.
Bush said he disagreed with it, and McCain — sharpening his original reaction — said it would make U.S. citizens and military personnel less safe.
“The United States Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision which I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country,” McCain said to applause from a crowd of supporters in New Jersey.
“Our first obligation is the safety and security of this nation and the men and women who defend it,” he continued. “This decision will harm our ability to do that.”
The court ruled that the detainees, some of whom have been held for six years, had rights under habeas corpus, a long-standing legal principle by which people can challenge their imprisonment. The 5-4 decision, welcomed by human rights groups, was seen as a setback to Bush’s war on terrorism.
McCain said the prisoners did not deserve the legal protection afforded to U.S. citizens.
“These are enemy combatants. These are people who are not citizens. They do not and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have,” he said.
McCain highlighted Democratic rival Barack Obama’s support for the decision and, acknowledging the likelihood that the next president may appoint new justices to the court, knocked the Illinois senator for not supporting Chief Justice John Roberts at his confirmation hearings.
“Senator Obama applauds this decision and he supports it. I argue against it and will do what I can to at least narrow down some of the wide-open aspects of this Supreme Court decision,” he said.
Editing by Xavier Briand