A chicken hawk takes on a "hydra-headed enemy"

Clarence Thomas says his colleagues aren't familiar with the ways of war. Tell it to John Paul Stevens.

Published June 30, 2006 1:18PM (EDT)

Clarence Thomas dissented from Thursday's decision in which the Supreme Court held that George W. Bush overstepped his legal authority at Guantánamo Bay. That part could be expected; in a collection of decisions handed down in 2004, Thomas was the only justice to argue that the president, as commander in chief, has the power to declare U.S. citizens "enemy combatants" and then hold them in custody indefinitely.

What we didn't expect: that, in the latest case, Thomas would attack his Supreme Court colleagues in the same personal way the Bush administration attacks those who dare to criticize its conduct of the war on terror. The president and his vice president like to say that their critics suffer from a "pre-9/11 mindset" and don't understand the nature of the enemy America faces. Thomas, taking a page out of the same book, on Thursday accused the court's majority of suffering from an "unfamiliarity with the realities of warfare."

At this point, the flaw in Thomas' attack is pretty predictable. The author of the majority opinion, John Paul Stevens, is plenty familiar with the "realities of warfare"; he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Thomas? Not so much. He was the right age to serve in Vietnam but didn't.

That's fine, but it might make you think twice before claiming that you know more about the "realities of warfare" than the other guy, wouldn't it? Not if you're on a Rovian roll like Thomas was Thursday. Thomas said that the problem with the majority of the justices -- and you might as well substitute in the word "liberals" or "Democrats" here -- is that they don't understand that we're "not engaged in a traditional battle with a nation-state, but with a worldwide, hydra-headed enemy, who lurks in the shadows conspiring to reproduce the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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