Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Killing Habeas Corpus

During the ratification of our Constitution it was noted and discussed that the document did not contain sufficient protection of individual rights for the people of the new nation. And so in 1789 the First Congress sent to the states for ratification a set of twelve amendments which were loosely based on a British Bill of Rights dating back to 1688.

Ten of those amendments passed and became known as our Bill of Rights.

Loosely speaking, the Constitution deals with the formulation and power of the Federal Government and the Bill of Rights deals with the protection of the rights of citizens. But, missing from our Bill of Rights and present in the British one, is the right of habeas corpus. Why?

Because our founders considered that right so basic and so essential that they put it in the Constitution itself.

Habeas corpus, literally “you shall have the body,” is the right of anyone detained by authority to appear before a judge to question his detention. The appearance does not determine guilt or innocence of any specified charge, merely whether or not the imprisonment itself is legal. It prevents the King, in the original British bill, or the any government agency in our case, from simply making someone disappear into a “dungeon” forever without recourse.

It has been a cornerstone of our laws, a part of our Constitution, for more than 200 years and now George Bush wants to remove it, permanently and retroactively. He not only wants the power to imprison without recourse, he wants justification for those whom he is currently imprisoning in violation of current law.

He is violating constitutional law and, rather than agreeing to cease the practice, he wants Congress to pass laws permitting his egregious imprisonment policy.

It is unconscionable that Congress would even consider passing such a law and yet, on both sides of the aisle, they are doing precisely that. Other than Sen. Arlen Specter's anemic stance and Sen. Patrick Leahy's somewhat more vigorous one, not one Democratic or Republican voice is raised in outrage at the concept of passing laws to overrule habeas corpus, to corrupt our Constitution.

When John McCain and company raised objection to an administration bill permitting torture, it was only the torture to which they took issue. The right of habeas corpus was never mentioned and, in the final agreement, the elimination of that essential right in that bill was agreed upon by all parties without discussion.

Are we really going to become a banana republic that lacks one of the most basic rights of man?

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