Tuesday, November 14, 2006

America without Habeas Corpus

From the AP (courtesy the outgoing Republican Congress, President Bush, and a few too many Democrats):
WASHINGTON - Immigrants arrested in the United States may be held indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism and may not challenge their imprisonment in civilian courts, the Bush administration said Monday, opening a new legal front in the fight over the rights of detainees.

In court documents filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., the Justice Department said a new anti-terrorism law being used to hold detainees in Guantanamo Bay also applies to foreigners captured and held in the United States.

Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, was arrested in 2001 while studying in the United States. He has been labeled an "enemy combatant," a designation that, under a law signed last month, strips foreigners of the right to challenge their detention in federal courts.

That law is being used to argue the Guantanamo Bay cases, but Al-Marri represents the first detainee inside the United States to come under the new law. Aliens normally have the right to contest their imprisonment, such as when they are arrested on immigration violations or for other crimes.
The right of a prisoner to petition a court for redress is the very essence of Liberty. To paraphrase Chief Justice Marshall: Without a remedy, a right does not exist.

The Constitution is a covenant among the nation's citizens, but also a promise to "our posterity," setting a moral obligation to keep and preserve the "justice" and "blessings of liberty" described in the Preamble for future generations. In addition to setting out governmental structure and processes intended to best check the worst impulses of those with Power, the document contains guarantees embodying fundamental human rights and standards of due process.

There is no justification for denying fundamental rights to our immigrants or our guests. Yes, citizenship accords one with certain unique political rights, but human rights do not end with citizenship.

One, there's the hypocrisy. Our Declaration of Independence trumpets the "separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle" peoples from different states. One of the document's stated purposes is satisfying "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind." It extols as "self evident" that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," and that government is instituted by the People "to secure these rights."

The Military Commissions Act violates not mere technical rules of criminal procedure, but the very core of what "liberty" means. A law stating that basic human rights end depending on your citizenship shows a total lack of respect for the opinions of mankind.

Then, there's the fact that the MCA is unconstitutional. The Bill of Rights itself has long been held by the Supreme Court to apply to non-citizens. See, most recently, Rasul vs. Bush ("Aliens held (in Guantanamo), no less than American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts' authority.").

Repealing the horrible Military Commissions Act and reinvigorating the right to habeas corpus relief should be one of the first priorities for the new Congress. I don't want this to simply be forgotten as politically sensitive why-bring-that-up-again-now "old business."


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