Friday, September 29, 2006

Habeas Corpus... Non!

You have the body, Bush. I'm reminded this morning that habeas (I've been spelling it "habeus", with a "u", and I've noticed that others do, too. A grammatical error, I suppose, for Latin purists. My own Latin, ignored since the age of ten, is not even rusty any more, it's solidified in corrosion!)... anyway, I'm reminded that habeas corpus is the 800 year old writ by which a prisoner has the right to challenge the legality of his or her imprisonment. You have the body. My Wikipedia describes it as "a court order addressed to a prison official [the "you" in question] ordering that a detainee be brought to court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisioned lawfully and whether or not he or she should be released from custody." The full writ is correctly habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, "you should release the body to be subjected (to examination)."

Which brings us to all those bodies in Guantanamo, and for all we know still in other hidden places in the world where we, the United States, are holding them as suspects in our war on terrorism; and to the craven House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States, which yesterday voted to essentially suspend the ancient right of habeas corpus, one of the corner stones of Western law and Western civilization, for certain of our citizens and certain non-citizens whom we (or essentially you, Bush) deem to be enemy combatants, terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers. In our fear, we are now prepared to rescind the very laws on which our claim to freedom is based.

I think it's a disgrace. I was hoping, a week or so ago, that a handful of senators would prevail in their attempt to halt the rush to surrender our most basic civil liberties--and their power as legislators to that of the executive. But no. It seems that thanks to the wisdom of our lawmakers, those men in Guantanamo, guilty or not--and we know that many of them are guilty of no more than having the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--will be allowed to languish in imprisonment at the pleasure of the United States for the rest of their lives, without recourse to know the charges that have been brought against them, if any, nor to challenge the lawfulness of their detainment.

Call me naive, Bush, but I'm with Senator Patrick Leahy: "This is wrong," he said, flatly. "It is unconstitutional. It is un-American." It's only reason, he declared, is to "ensure that the Bush-Cheney administration will never again be embarrassed by a United States Supreme Court decision reviewing its unlawful use of power," Even Senator Arlen Spector, I read, one of your staunch Republicans, proclaimed the right to challenge one's detention, as "fundamental to American law" and predicted that the Supreme Court would strike the law down. "The Constitution is explicit," he said, "in the statement that habeas corpus may be suspended only with rebellion or invasion. We do not have a rebellion or an invasion."

The adjective used by the military lawyers charged with the defense of those men in Guantanamo was more succinct. The law, said one of them, is "horrible."

When even our deliberative bodies act in panic to rubber stamp your efforts, Bush, to subvert the freedoms for which we stand as a supposed "beacon" in the world, I have to conclude that the terrorists have gone a good long way to winning the war you have declared against them. And more's the pity. It's unthinkable to have our laws held hostage by a bunch of brutal criminals who claim to commit their hideous acts in the name of one of the world's great religions.

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