Legislators may reconsider suspending habeas corpus


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Posted on Wed, Dec. 06, 2006

Legislators may reconsider suspending habeas corpus for detainees

By Lesley Clark and Margaret Talev
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - President Bush's victory in getting the rules he wanted to try 
suspected terrorists could be diminished.

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee signaled this week that 
he'll join prominent Democrats in seeking to restore legal rights to hundreds of
suspected terrorists confined at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.

While the measure to restore the right of habeas corpus has almost no chance of 
passing before Congress adjourns later this week, the message is clear: When 
Democrats take over in early January, the issue could resurface.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006, which Bush signed into law in October, 
prevents detainees who aren't U.S. citizens from challenging their detentions in
civilian courts. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., 
who voted for the legislation despite his opposition to stripping such rights 
from detainees, on Tuesday reintroduced legislation to restore those rights. A 
similar measure sponsored by Specter failed by three votes in October.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Specter said he was reintroducing the issue to 
prevent federal courts from striking down the legislation, which some of the 
detainees' attorneys have challenged.

But some lawmakers privately speculated that Specter may have decided to 
reintroduce the legislation after a recent article in the New Yorker magazine 
suggested that his desire to retain his powerful committee chairmanship led him 
to go along with the administration's wishes.

Specter on Tuesday repeated his contention that the act violates the 

"The Constitution of the United States is explicit that habeas corpus may be 
suspended only in time of rebellion or invasion," Specter said on the floor. "We
are suffering neither of those alternatives at the present time. We have not 
been invaded, and there has not been a rebellion. That much is conceded."

His co-sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who'll become chairman of the 
Judiciary Committee when the Democrats take over in January, noted that the 
effort to secure habeas appeals for all detainees failed by only three votes.

"Since then, the American people have spoken against the administration's stay- 
the-course approach to national security and against a rubber-stamp Congress 
that accommodated this administration's efforts to grab more and more power," 
Leahy said. "Abolishing habeas corpus for anyone who the government thinks might
have assisted enemies of the United States is unnecessary and morally wrong. It 
is a betrayal of the most basic values of freedom for which America stands."

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who's served as a military lawyer and a judge 
and who helped craft the detainee legislation, said he'd oppose the move. And he
said he doubted that even a Democratic-led Senate would go along with it. During
the debate, Republicans had sought to portray Democrats who were opposed to 
lifting such rights as soft on terrorists.

"I'm curious to see what the five new Democrats would think about giving 
terrorists the ability to sue our troops in federal court and having federal 
district court judges make wartime decisions," Graham said Wednesday. "I got a 
feeling a lot of them would agree with me."

Attorneys for some of those detainees hailed the decision to revisit the issue.

"There's strong support in Congress, and if the issue was significantly 
understood, there'd be overwhelming support among Americans," said Jonathan 
Hafetz, who handles detainee cases for the Brennan Center for Justice at New 
York University School of Law. "The issue is not whether or not America should 
detain or try suspected terrorists, the issue is whether we're going to have a 
lawful and fair process."

© 2006 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service sources. All Rights 


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