Habeus Corpus Up For Grabs

A NY Times editorial yesterday reminds us that Congress will this week be taking up the amendment to the Military Commissions Act (MCA) that will restore habeus corpus for foreign prisoners in military jails – you know, Gitmo and the rest of the secret prison system.

The Republican Congress – with the aid of way too many Democrats – suspended habeus corpus last year, claiming that it “coddled” terrorists and endangered national security. This despite a lack of evidence that the vast majority of prisoners were guilty of anything.

In fact, though the general belief is that these so-called “terrorist” prisoners were captured on the battlefield, the truth seems to be that most of them – hundreds of them – were political enemies of Pervez Musharraf (and random civilians caught in the net) who were rounded up on the streets of Islamabad and handed on a plate to US troops as “terrorist sympathizers”.

It was a neat bit of manipulation by Musharraf that US authorities, who needed bodies to justify the new prison system, and the Bush Administration, which needed proof that its GWOT wasn’t illusory, fell for hook-line-and-sinker. The US military in charge of the prisons released hundreds of these prisoners (following several years’ “detention”) after determining that they were innocent – until the Bush Admin ordered a halt to the releases.

One shouldn’t have to point out that the suspension of habeus corpus in the first place was blatantly unConstitutional or that our laws also apply to foreigners, but one is forced to because those are the arguments the Bushies used to pass the law.

In 2004, the Supreme Court again affirmed habeas corpus, declaring that Mr. Bush had no right to revoke the rules of civilized justice at his whim for hundreds of foreigners he declared “illegal enemy combatants.” But Mr. Bush was determined to avoid judicial scrutiny of the extralegal system of prisons he created after the Sept. 11 attacks. With the help of his allies on Capitol Hill, he railroaded the habeas corpus suspension through the Republican-controlled Congress.

The administration’s disinformation machine portrayed the debate as a fight between tough-minded conservatives who wanted to defeat terrorism and addled liberals who would coddle the worst kinds of criminals. It was nothing of the kind.

There is nothing conservative about expressing contempt for the Constitution by denying judicial procedure to prisoners who happen not to be Americans. A long list of conservatives, including Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman; David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union; and William Sessions, a former federal judge and F.B.I. director under the first President Bush, support the reinstatement of habeas corpus for the prisoners of the so-called war on terror.

I’m not saying actual terrorists (should there be any; so far none have appeared from the wholesale collection that populates Gitmo and the other prisons) should lose their rights, either, but certainly the innocent should not.

The Congress needs to restore the right of habeus without further politicking. There’s no excuse for what they did in the first place. For them to refuse to undo the damage they’ve done when they’ve got a chance would be unconscionable.

2 Responses to “Habeus Corpus Up For Grabs”

  1. Here’s a good testing ground for Democrats. With nothing on the line but constitutionality, if they don’t blugeon habeas back into practice, I think I may have some severe problems.

    Good post.

  2. Laura says:

    I called my senators and congressman. That might sound somewhat impressive except that my senators are KYL and MCCAIN!!! (It was a bit of self-torture I didn’t need.) Not to worry though, my congressman who just replaced JD HAYWORTH is great. You may have heard of him; HARRY MITCHELL. He was on the list of those who voted IN FAVOR of the pre-August recess FISA revision. I wonder how JD would have voted?…. hmmm… I’m shaking my fist at the wind here, but I did try to let them know (I’ been readin’ and now) I’m in favor of the restoration of the right of habeous corpus.

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