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Guilty until proven innocent? Habeas Corpus - R.I.P.

by Alethea (writer), Los Angeles, November 14, 2006

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President Bush signed into action the Military Commissions Act of 2006. At the time of signing, Bush stated that this Act will be one of the "most important pieces of legislation in the war on terror.

Last month, President Bush signed into action the Military Commissions Act of 2006. At the time of signing, Bush stated that this Act will be one of the "most important pieces of legislation in the war on terror." Basically, the intention of the Act is to "facilitate bringing to justice terrorists and other unlawful enemy combatants through full and fair trials by military commissions, and for other purposes." Sounds like a typical necessity to fight terrorists, right?

However, there has been much heated debate over signing this Act into a law. One of the major concerns of critics is the resulting ostensible erasure of the writ of habeas corpus. What habeas corpus permits detainees to do is that it allows them to seek release from unlawful imprisonment. The detainee is brought to court to determine whether or not there is adequate evidence to suspend the person. Innocent until proven guilty, right?

Typically in the US, habeas corpus is in effect except during cases of rebellion and invasions of public safety. More recently, habeas corpus has begun to loose its power. In November of 2001, the President ordered a Military Order that gave him the power to "detain non-citizens suspected of connection to terrorists or terrorism as an enemy combatant." This meant that any non-citizen could be held, without specific reason, a court hearing or legal consultation.

This past summer, during the Supreme Court case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Judge James Robertson decided these military commissions, that could detain any non-citizen with no evidence, were unconstitutional. Although a three judge panel tried to get his decision appealed, eventually the Supreme Court upheld Robertson's decision. (Interestingly enough Bush appointed one of the three appeal judges thereafter to become Chief Justice.)

So what's happening now? With the passing of the new law, Robertson's ruling was overturned. Habeas Corpus is now suspended for any non-citizen determined by whatever means as an "unlawful enemy combatant engaged in hostilities or having supported hostilities against the United States." After a determination has been made, the subject is free to appeal, but the law allows the government to take an unlimited amount of time in deciding.

Supporters argue that the act of denying habeas corpus does not apply to US citizens, and thus does not violate our constitutional rights. Critics argue it is a human rights violation. Anthony Romero, the American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director, summed up the Act: "The president can now, with the approval of Congress, indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions."

Habeas Corpus is not the only concern of critics either. Included in the law, as with most government documents, is a lot of vague interpretive fine print that holds many other concerns such as allowing the President to carry out death sentences, replacing civilian courts with military commissions, prohibit the use of the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights, among others. More critically, others say it can be spread over to US citizens. Bruce Ackerman, a Yale professor of Law, states the act "authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights".

Do we have the right to hold anyone for an indefinate amount of time if there is room for weak suspicions? Time may be the only way to tell if this law will be abused but one thing seems clear, it appears that still more power is being centralized to the Presidency.



About the Writer

Alethea is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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2 comments on Guilty until proven innocent? Habeas Corpus - R.I.P.

Log In To Vote   Score: 2
By Annonymous on November 15, 2006 at 12:12 pm
How can "we" be "bringing justice" to anyone if this country is doing crap like this? Holding people indefinitely (guilty or not) does nothing but piss people off. As if the terrorists don't have enough they say they hate us for, we're giving them reasons on a silver platter!
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Log In To Vote   Score: 3
By Alethea on February 01, 2007 at 10:54 pm
anonymous - well, I think that the first thing we should do is be aware of what's going on. i don't think that journalists that report news like this are just talking heads when they're making an effort to let people know what they have, and what's being taken away. We can't do anything if people aren't aware there's even a problem.
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