Legislation Undermining Habeas Upheld

In response to a federal appeals court ruling Tuesday that upheld the constitutionality of legislation curtailing habeas corpus rights, People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas issued the following statement:

“Basic constitutional liberties were dealt a blow on Tuesday when an appeals court agreed with the Bush administration that the Military Commissions Act, which revokes habeas corpus for prisoners detained by the United States, was constitutional. It’s simply not the American Way for people to be scooped up and locked away for years, without access to a lawyer or any means of defending themselves, even when they are accused of serious crimes.

“While the prisoners at Guantanamo are not American citizens, we believe that this decision has serious ramifications for the constitutional rights of Americans—the fundamental right of the accused to hear the charges against them, and to defend themselves against such charges. Habeus corpus is part of the Constitution, one of the most important rights that Americans enjoy, and a bulwark against tyranny.

“The Military Commissions Act, which PFAW opposed, was passed last year by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Bush. That Act was a response to the Supreme Court’s important June 2006 decision in Hamdan v. Bush—which allowed habeas cases brought by several Guantanamo detainees to continue in federal court. Hamdan was the second case accepted by our nation’s highest court from detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court recognized that habeas corpus relief extended to detainees at Guantanamo Bay and held that our federal courts have jurisdiction to hear those claims. Both of these cases were decided in favor of the foreign detainees.

“In its ruling yesterday, the D.C. court flatly ignored the Supreme Court’s previous findings and sustained the Military Commissions Act’s broad revocation of the writ of habeas corpus—even though the Act violates the Constitution’s Suspension Clause. The Suspension Clause states, ‘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.’ It only permits Congress to suspend habeas under two very discrete scenarios, neither of which is accounted for in the Military Commissions Act.

“Congress’ overstepping in the Military Commissions Act necessitates review by the Supreme Court, where we would expect the Court to once again uphold the common law writ of habeas corpus for detainees held within the United States’ dominion and sovereign control and affirm the constitutional limits of congressional power.”

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