Death of habeas corpus

by Beacon Staff • February 28, 2007

On Feb. 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay do not have this right.,Fundamental tenant of our judicial system. To deny that right to anyone is unconscionable, as innocents may be wrongfully imprisoned.

On Feb. 20, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay do not have this right. The courts ruling upheld the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (M.C.A.) which prevents foreign detainees labeled as enemy combatants from filing habeas corpus cases in federal courts.

This ruling is in flagrant conflict with Article 9, Section 1 of the United States Constitution. This clause explicitly prohibits Congress from suspending habeas corpus, the right of a defendant to appear before a judge and determine whether the defendant is legally imprisoned, except in cases of "Rebellion or Invasion."

Congress overstepped their authority by enacting the M.C.A., as it prevents foreign detainees from filing habeas corpus petitions in cases that do not deal with a rebellion or invasion. The act allows the government to continue the imprisonment of detainees without ever bringing charges against them.

This indefinite incarceration also violates the sixth amendment, which states that, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial . and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation." The detainees who have yet to hear what they are charged with, aside from vague accusations of terrorist ties, have also been denied this right.

In one ridiculous decision, the D.C. court upheld a law that violates these two provisions of the Constitution of the United States.

The reasoning put forward by the court to support its decision was relatively simple. They claimed foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay are not entitled to the rights American citizens are guaranteed by the Constitution.

Writing for the majority opinion, Judge A. Raymond Randolph said the Constitution, "does not confer rights on aliens without property or presence within the United States.''

By this reasoning, Judge Randolph asserted that the detainees do not have any of the rights put forth in the Constitution.

Would it not then be reasonable to deny them freedom of speech? Certainly if they have no rights we can torture the prisoners while never bringing a single charge against them.

This notion that the detainees are not endowed with constitutional rights is completely absurd. To revoke these Constitutional rights establishes a system where people are free to be punished by American laws, yet not free to exercise American rights.

The court's decision also upholds a provision of the M.C.A. providing detainees with the almost useless ability to plead their cases before a military tribunal. In these tribunals, detainees must prove their innocence to a three officer panel.

Following the signing of the M.C.A. in Oct. 2006, President Bush said during an address, "The Military Commissions Act will also allow us to prosecute captured terrorists for war crimes through a full and fair trial."

Yet these trials are far from fair.

For one, they go against the American ideal that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Making detainees argue their innocence flips this notion on its head.

Second, it is hard to imagine a fair trial being conducted by the Executive Branch, as this is the same entity that imprisoned the detainees. Their opinion on the innocence of the detainees was made known with the initial arrest. For this reason, the Constitution placed this power with the Judicial Branch.

Furthermore, allowing the Executive Branch to perform the duties of the Judicial Branch is a major violation of the separation of powers. The Executive Branch was only given the power to enforce laws, not to interpret those laws in a courtroom. That duty is specifically reserved for the Judicial Branch as one of many checks and balances. For this reason alone, federal courts, and not military tribunals, should be allowed to hear cases brought by the detainees.

Despite the courts ruling, the case is far from finished.

In the Senate, legislation has been proposed by several Democrats to restore rights taken away by the M.C.A. However, even if such a bill passes, it would be vetoed by President Bush, and Democrats would be almost certainly not have the support to override it.

The case will most likely be appealed to the Supreme Court, where the court previously granted habeas corpus rights to detainees in 2004. The Supreme Court must hear this case, and must overturn the ruling of the appeals court as that ruling validates an unconstitutional law.

In the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall voiced the power of the courts to oversee the legislature when he said, "a law repugnant to the Constitution is void."

The M.C.A. is such a law, and it must be struck down as unconstitutional so the unfortunate prisoners of Guantanamo Bay can have the fair trial they deserve.