Gray Panthers of San Francisco
October 2006 Newsletter

Habeas Corpus in Jeopardy


Habeas Corpus in Jeopardy

For months now, a battle has raged in Washington over the rights of detainees accused of terrorist activities or affiliations. The debate, according to Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, centers on three issues: allowable interrogation techniques, military commissions, and the writ of habeas corpus.

In June 2006, the Supreme Court decided against the administration in a suit (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) which challenged the President’s authority to establish military tribunals without congressional approval and challenged the trial proceedings as violations of US constitutional and military law and of the Geneva Conventions. The Bush administration responded by parading across the media 14 “Al-Queda suspects” who had been held in -CIA secret prisons around the world the administration has been denying existed. The government then proposed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S. 3901) as a way to “bring these terrorists to justice.” The Act calls for (1) a radical reduction in scope of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (which prohibits inhumane treatment), (2) a retroactive interpretation of Article 3 and the War Crimes Act (which would protect CIA agents on up through the President from prosecution for war crimes), (3) trial by military commission of individuals seized anywhere in the world, (4) admission of coerced evidence and classified evidence defendants are not allowed to see, (5) elimination of judicial oversight and the right of appeal outside military commissions, and (6) denial of habeas corpus to any alien deemed an unlawful combatant and placed in military custody—including legal permanent residents of the US arrested inside the US.

Senate Judiciary Committee members Warner, McCain, and Graham have revised the bill to include a defendant’s right to see evidence against him and to limit trial by military commissions to “alien unlawful combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States.” Their revision does not address the loss of habeas corpus, a basic tenet of US and, prior to 1776, English law since the Magna Carta in 1215.

If these attacks on the rights of the foreign born are successful, who do we think will be next?

(back to October 2006 Newsletter front page)