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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The GOP to Rescue Civil Rights?

A writ of habeas corpus is a civil proceeding that allows an arrestee to challenge the legality of their detention. If a federal cop throws you in jail for hitting on his wife, you're pretty much guaranteed to get sprung. In 2006, you lost that right when President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act, which allows you to be held indefinitely, without charge. "[N]o court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination," it reads. Now, if you weren't born here and the cop says you're a terrorist, he can lock you up for hitting on his wife and there's not a damned thing you can do about it. Even if you're a US citizen.

Considering that, tell me which left wing, blame-America-first, terrorist loving organization put out this press release:

When President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) into law, it was a gross usurpation of powers by the Executive branch. Unfortunately, members of Congress allowed that usurpation to take place when both the House (by a vote of 250-170) and Senate (by a vote of 65-34) passed the legislation.

One component of the bill authorizes the president to suspend the right of habeas corpus -- the Constitutionally-protected right that allows a prisoner to request the reason for his/her incarceration from a lawful judge. Habeas corpus is specifically discussed in Article 1, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."


That's like MoveOn.org or some other lefty group, right?

Nope. That'd be the John Birch Society, a group that thinks Sen. Joe McCarthy was an american hero, that Republicans aren't conservative enough, and that social security is a communist plot. The John Birch Society is the rightest of the right.

Which makes it a once in the lifetime of the universe event when they're on the same page as the American Civil Liberties Union:

The American Civil Liberties Union applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee's action to restore the crucial writ of habeas corpus. Today, the committee meets to mark up pending legislation, including S. 185 - a bill to restore habeas corpus for those detained by the United States. The habeas bill is expected to pass out of committee today and head to the Senate floor within the month.


The truth is that the only group in the law and justice business who thinks the MCA is a good idea is the congress. Just a few days ago, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in (PDF) on case involving a man detained under the MCA, "the President lacks power to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain [the defendant] al-Marri," and, "[I]n the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians -- let alone imprison them indefinitely."

"Al-Marri's constitutional claim is a serious one," the court found. "As an alien captured and detained within the United States, he has the right to habeas corpus protected by the Constitution's Suspension Clause."

The Suspension Clause specifies when the right to habeas corpus can be suspended and, for the record, it ain't often. It's a 'desperate times call for desperate measures' clause written into the constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2) that reads, "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

The 'war on terror' is neither a rebellion nor an invasion. If it qualified for either, so would any legal crackdown the US engaged in, from illegal immigration to drug trafficking to organized crime. None of these have ever required that we drop one of our most basic civil rights.

As the ACLU press release stated, a bill to restore habeas corpus is in the works. In fact, since the press release was issued, it's been voted out of Senate Judiciary Committee and will be put to a vote on the floor.

That's the good news. The bad news is that only one Republican senator on the committee signed on -- Arlen Specter. The GOP has become so hostile to civil liberties and rights that I doubt they'd have voted in favor of the majority of articles in the Bill of Rights. I don't mean that as hyperbole -- I believe it.

Would a majority of Republicans vote for the First Amendment knowing it could protect the right of the press to expose things like Abu Ghraib? Doubtful. What about Freedom of Assembly -- would they vote in favor of antiwar protests and Cindy Sheehan? Please...

I don't hold out a lot of hope for the bill in the Senate. The idea of Republicans voting for basic civil rights in enough numbers to pass this -- let alone override the absolutely certain veto -- is beyond credibility to me. I suppose years of exposure to GOP antiamericanism might have made me a cynic, but I prefer to think it's the voice of experience and realism. Put in the very best light, Republicans seem to hold our civil rights in contempt.

Not everyone is so certain that the bill is doomed, however. "Is it unreasonable to think that grass-roots activists might succeed in forcing a significant number of Republicans to do the right thing?" John Nichols writes. "No, not when we recognize the progress that has been made thus far. And not when we consider that this progress is a direct reflection of the fact that the passion for restoring habeas corpus has always been greater at the grass roots than in Washington."

He's got a point. With even the John Birch Society jumping ship over the loss of habeas corpus, maybe the bill will appeal to many Republicans' inner Libertarian. Maybe they'll stand up for the nation and not for the President. Maybe they won't confuse the king for the state.

As I said, I have my doubts. I'm just so used to being disappointed in those who claim to love the country most, while loving liberty least. The worst case scenario has become the status quo and the Republican party seems committed to the status quo.

Call me a cynic, but I think we're screwed here. I think it's unrealistic to rely on the GOP to do the right thing.

--Wisco

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