The Use of Military Commissions
A Military commission or military tribunal is a form of military court used to try individuals who are a part of the enemy force in times of war. They are used when a normal civil or criminal proceeding is not applicable.
Military commissions get their authority from the Articles I and II of the U.S. Constitution as well as from statutory law such as the Authorization for Use of Military Force. While they existed as early as the 1840’s, the validity of a commission was not tested until the American Civil War, where the Union Army General Order 100 said that a military commission could prosecute a case that wasn’t applicable to the Rules and Articles of War.
The legal validity of the jurisdiction of a military commission happened where the Supreme Court solidified the boundaries of a military commission. From then on they could be used in place of a common-law war court.
Today, a military commission acts as a type of military tribunal. It has been given statutory authority by the Constitution as well as by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The issue of a military commission has come up on many different occasions in the Supreme Court. Some of them include:
• Ex Parte Milligan (1866)
• Ex Parte Quirin (1942)
• Application of Yamashita
• Madsen v. Kinsella
• Duncan v. Kahanamoku
• United States ex. Rel. Toth v. Quarles
Military commissions have also been given executive authority. Since the President of the United States acts as the Commander in Chief, he has the authority to assemble military commissions.
Some examples include:
• Presidential Proclamation 2561: Appointment of a Military Commission by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
• Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism, a military order by President George W. Bush
The president’s authority to create military commissions was challenged in the Supreme Court Cases Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, where the court decided that President Bush did not have the authority to create military commissions a month aver the September 11 attacks. He had created one that did not adhere to the Geneva Convention’s standards and did so without any approval from Congress.
However, Congress then passed the Military Commissions Act that authorized military commissions that could deviate from the normal rules of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
During Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Campaign, he claimed that he would reject the Military Commissions Act, close Guantanamo, and unlike President Bush, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. However, as president he continued the military commissions for two more years. As of March 2011, he has made a new set of procedures for military commissions that would provide detainees to legal representation as well as more classified information.