Patrick Leahy: ³A Total Rollback Of Everything This Country Has Stood For²


Richard Moore

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           ³A Total Rollback Of Everything This Country Has Stood For²:

            Sen. Patrick Leahy Blasts Congressional Approval of Detainee


Friday, September 29th, 2006

The Senate has agreed to give President Bush extraordinary power to detain and 
try prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The legislation strips detainees 
of the right to challenge their own detention and gives the President the power 
to detain them indefinitely. The bill also immunizes U.S. officials from 
prosecution for torturing detainees who the military and the CIA captured before
the end of last year. We get reaction from Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 
Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. [includes rush 

On Capitol Hill, the Senate has agreed to give President Bush extraordinary 
power to detain and try prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The editors of
the New York Times described the law as tyrannical. They said its passage marks 
a low point in American democracy and that it is our generation¹s version of the
Alien and Sedition Acts. The legislation strips detainees of the right to file 
habeas corpus petitions to challenge their own detention or treatment. It gives 
the president the power to indefinitely detain anyone it deems to have provided 
material support to anti-U.S. hostilities. Secret and coerced evidence could be 
used to try detainees held in U.S. military prisons. The bill also immunizes 
U.S. officials from prosecution for torturing detainees who the military and the
CIA captured before the end of last year.

The Senate passed the measure sixty five to thirty four. Twelve Democrats joined
the Republican majority. The House passed virtually the same legislation on 
Wednesday. Legal groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, are 
already preparing to challenge the constitutionality of the law in court.

€  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
See Senator Leahy¹s statement on the detainee bill here.

  €  Michael Ratner. President of the Center for Constitutional Rights.


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AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont condemned 
the legislation from the floor of the Senate.

€  SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: It grieves me to think that three decades in this body 
that I stand here in the Senate, knowing that we¹re thinking of doing this. It 
is so wrong. It is unconstitutional. It is un-American. It is designed to ensure
the Bush-Cheney administration will never again be embarrassed by a United 
States Supreme Court decision reviewing its unlawful abuses of power. The 
Supreme Court said, ŒYou abused your power.¹ He said, ŒHa, we¹ll fix that. We 
have a rubber stamp, a rubber stamp, Congress, that will just set that aside and
give us power that nobody, no king or anybody else set foot in this land, ever 
thought of having.¹

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy speaking Thursday prior to the 
vote. He joins us now on the telephone. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you. It¹s good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: It¹s good to have you with us, Senator. Now, if you could explain 
exactly what this bill that the Senate has just approved with a number of 
Democrats joining with the Republicans, what exactly it does.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: First off, as you probably gathered from what I was saying 
on the floor, it¹s a terrible bill. It removes as many checks and balances as 
possible so that any president can basically set the law, determine what laws 
they¹ll follow and what laws they¹ll break and not have anybody be able to 
question them on it.

In this case, the particular section I was speaking about at that point was the 
so-called habeas protection. Now, habeas corpus was first brought in the Magna 
Carta in the 1200s. It¹s been a tenet of our rights as Americans. And what 
they're saying is that if you¹re an alien, even if you¹re in the United States 
legally, a legal alien, may have been here ten years, fifteen years, twenty 
years legally, if a determination is made by anybody in the executive that you 
may be a threat, they can hold you indefinitely, they could put you in 
Guantanamo, not bring any charges, not allow you to have a lawyer, not allow you
to ever question what they¹ve done, even in cases, as they now acknowledge, 
where they have large numbers of people in Guantanamo who are there by mistake, 
that they put you -- say you¹re a college professor who has written on Islam or 
for whatever reason, and they lock you up. You¹re not even allowed to question 
it. You¹re not allowed to have a lawyer, not allowed to say, ³Wait a minute, 
you¹ve got the wrong person. Or you¹ve got -- the one you¹re looking for, their 
name is spelled similar to mine, but it¹s not me.² It makes no difference. You 
have no recourse whatsoever.

This goes so much against everything we've ever done. Now, we¹ve had some on the
other side say, ŒWell, they're trying to give rights to terrorists.¹ No, we¹re 
just saying that the United States will follow the rules it has before and will 
protect rights of people. We¹re not giving any new rights. We¹re just saying 
that if, for example, if you picked up the wrong person, you at least have a 
chance to get somebody independent to make that judgment.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, on this issue of habeas corpus, I want to play a 
clip from yesterday¹s Senate debate and have you respond. This is Republican 
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

€  SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: It was never, ever, ever, ever intended or imagined that 
during the War of 1812, that it British soldiers were captured burning of the 
Capitol of the United States, as they did, that they would have been given 
habeas corpus rights. It was never thought to be. habeas corpus was applied to 
citizens, really, at that time, and I believe that that¹s so plain as to be 
without dispute.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. Senator Leahy, your response.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I wish it was as plain as he says. Of course, in the 
Hamdan decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it very clear that it is 
available in somebody captured. In a case like what he was talking about, if 
somebody had been captured there and held in prison, and they said, ³You have 
the wrong person,² they could at least raise it. And you also have, of course, 
under the Constitution, that habeas can be suspended if there is an invasion, if
there is an insurrection. We have neither case here. Even the most conservative 
Republican legal thinkers have said this is not a case to suspend habeas corpus.

You know, they can set up all the straw men they want, but the fact is this 
allows the Bush administration to act totally arbitrarily with no court or 
anybody else to raise any questions about it. It allows them to cover up any 
mistakes they make. And this goes beyond just marking everything ³secret,² as 
they do now. Every mistake they make, they just mark it ³secret.² But this is 
even worse. This means somebody could be locked up for five years, ten years, 
fifteen years, twenty years. They have the wrong person, and they have no rights
to be able to say, ³Hey guys, you¹ve got the wrong person.² It goes against 
everything that we¹ve done as Americans.

You know, when things like this were done during the Cold War in some of the 
Iron Curtain countries, I remember all the speeches on the Senate floor, 
Democrats and Republicans alike saying, ³How horrible this is! Thank God we 
don¹t do things like this in America.² I wish they¹d go back and listen to some 
of their speeches at that time.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, this was not a close vote: 65 to 34. The twelve 
Democrats who joined with the Republicans, except for Senator Chafee of Rhode 
Island, the twelve Democrats are Tom Carper of Delaware, Tim Johnson of South 
Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, as well as 
Senator Menendez of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, 
Senator Pryor of Arkansas, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Ken Salazar of 
Colorado, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. They 
joined with the Republicans. You are working very hard to get a Democratic 
majority in the Senate in these next elections and in Congress overall. What 
difference would it make?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: In their defense, all but one of them voted with me when we 
moved to strike the habeas provisions out. That was the Specter-Leahy amendment,
and we had, I think it was, 51-48, I think, was the final vote on that. All but 
one of the Democrats joined with me on that. If we had gotten three or four more
Republicans, we would have at least struck out the habeas provision. There are 
-- you know, I --

AMY GOODMAN: But they voted for this bill without that, with the habeas 
provision being stripped out.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I¹ll let each one speak for themselves. The fact that the 
Republicans were virtually lockstep in it, though, should be what I would look 
at. And maybe we¹re blessed in Vermont --

AMY GOODMAN: But that larger question, that larger question of, what would be 
any different if Democrats were in power?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: For one thing, we would have been asking the questions about
what¹s been going on for six years. We¹ve had a rubberstamp congress that 
automatically has given the President anything he wants, because nobody¹s asked 
questions. Nobody¹s asked the questions that are in the Woodward book that¹s 
coming out this weekend, where you find all the mistakes were made because they 
will acknowledge no mistakes. The Republicans control both the House and the 
Senate. They will not call hearings. They won¹t try to find out how did 
Halliburton walk off with billions of dollars in cost overruns in Iraq. Why did 
the Bush administration refuse to send the body armor our troops needed in Iraq?
Why did they send inferior material?

And, of course, the two questions that the Congress would not ask, because the 
Republicans won¹t allow it, is, why did 9/11 happen on George Bush's watch when 
he had clear warnings that it was going to happen? Why did they allow it to 
happen? And secondly, when they had Osama bin Laden cornered, why didn¹t they 
get him? Had there been an independent congress, one that could ask questions, 
these questions would have been asked years ago. We¹d be much better off. We 
would have had the answers to that. I think with those answers, we would not 
have the fiasco we have in Iraq today, we would have caught Osama bin Laden, 
Afghanistan would be a more stable place, and the world would be safer.

AMY GOODMAN: Was President Bush on Capitol Hill yesterday?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, yes, indeed. You can always tell, because virtually the 
whole city comes to a screeching halt with the motorcades, although it¹s sort of
like that when Dick Cheney comes up to give orders to the Republican Caucus. He 
comes up with a 15 to 25 vehicle caravan. It¹s amazing to watch.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was Bush doing yesterday on Capitol Hill?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, he was just telling them they had to vote this way. They
had to vote. They couldn¹t hand him a defeat. They had to go with him They had 
to trust him. It¹ll get us past the election. We had offered a -- you know, five
years ago, I and others had suggested there is a way to have military tribunals 
for the detainees, where it would meet all our standards and basic international
standards. They rejected that. And now, five weeks before the elections, they 
say, ŒOh, yes, we need something like that.¹ No, basically what he was saying to
them, don¹t ask questions, get us past the elections, because if you ask 
questions, the answers are going to be embarrassing, and it could hurt you in 
the elections.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, we have to break for one minute. We ask you to stay 
with us. We¹ll also be joined by CCR president, Center for Constitutional Rights
president, Michael Ratner.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Michael
Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is president there. Michael 
Ratner, your response, as we speak with the senator about this groundbreaking 

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think Senator Leahy really got it right. I mean, what 
this bill authorizes is really the authority of an authoritarian despot to the 
president. I mean, what it gives him is the power, as the senator said, to 
detain any person anywhere in the world, citizen or non-citizen, whether living 
in the United States or anywhere else. I mean, what kind of authority is that? 
No checks and balances. Nothing. Now, if you¹re a citizen, you still get your 
right of habeas corpus. If you¹re a non-citizen, as the senator pointed out, 
you¹re completely finished. Picked up, legal permanent resident in the United 
States, detained forever, no writ of habeas corpus.

It was incredibly shocking. I watched that vote yesterday. I had been in 
Washington for two or three days trying to line up the votes for Senator Leahy¹s
amendment that would have restored habeas. We thought we had them. We lost at 51
to 48. I have to tell you, Amy, I just -- I basically broke down at that point. 
I had been working like a dog on this thing. And there I saw the President come 
to Capitol Hill and persuade two or three or four of the Republicans who we 
thought we had to vote to strip habeas corpus from this legislation. It was a 
shock. I mean, an utter shock.

So you have this ability to detain anyone anywhere in the world. You deny them 
the writ of habeas corpus. And when they're in detention, you have a right to do
all kinds of coercive techniques on them: hooding, stripping, anything really 
the president says goes, short of what he defines as torture. And then, if you 
are lucky enough to be tried, and I say ³lucky enough,² because, for example, 
the 460 people the Center represents at Guantanamo may never get trials. In 
fact, only ten have even been charged. Those people, they¹ve been stripped of 
their right to go to court and test their detention by habeas corpus. They¹re 
just -- they¹ve been there five years. Right now, under this legislation, they 
could be there forever.

Let me tell you, this bill will be struck down and struck down badly. But 
meanwhile, for two more years or whatever it¹s going to take us to litigate it, 
we¹re going to be litigating what was a basic right, as the senator said, since 
the Magna Carta of 1215, the right of any human being to test their detention in
court. It¹s one of the saddest days I¹ve seen. You¹ve called it 
³groundbreaking,² Amy. It¹s really Constitution-breaking. It¹s 
Constitution-shattering. It shatters really basic rights that we've had for a 
very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, how long have you been a senator?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I¹ve been there 32 years. I have to absolutely agree with 
what I just heard. I mean, this is -- it¹s Kafka. But it¹s more than that. It¹s 
just a total rollback of everything this country has stood for. I mean, you have
100 people, very privileged, members of the Senate voting this way and with no 
realization of what it would be like if you were the one who was picked up. 
Maybe you¹re guilty, but quite often, as we¹ve seen, purely by accident and then
held for years.

You know, I was a prosecutor for eight years. I prosecuted an awful lot of 
people, sent a lot of people to prison. But I did it arguing that everybody's 
rights had to be protected, because mistakes are often made. You want to make 
sure that if you¹re prosecuting somebody, you¹re prosecuting the right person. 
Here, they don't care whether mistakes are made or not.

And you have to stand up. I mean, it was a Vermonter -- you go way back in 
history -- it was a Vermonter who stood up against the Alien and Sedition Act, 
Matthew Lyon. He was prosecuted on that, put in jail, as a congressman, put in 
jail. And Vermont showed what they thought of these unconstitutional laws. We in
Vermont reelected him, and eventually the laws fell down. There was another 
Vermonter, Ralph Flanders, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy and his reign of fear
and stopped that. I mean, you have to stand. What has happened, here we are, a 
great powerful good nation, and we¹re running scared. We¹re willing to set aside
all our values and running scared. What an example that is to the rest of the 

AMY GOODMAN: You gave an example, Senator Leahy, when you talked about what 
would happen here. And, I mean, even the fact that ³habeas corpus² is in Latin, 
I think, distances people. They don¹t quite understand what this is about.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: ³Bring the body.²
AMY GOODMAN: You gave a very -- sorry?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: ³Bring the body.²

AMY GOODMAN: You gave a very graphic example. You said, ³Imagine you¹re a 
law-abiding lawful permanent resident. In your spare time you do charitable 
fundraising for international relief agencies that lend a hand in disasters.² 
Take that story from there, the example you used.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: You send money. You don¹t care which particular religious 
group or civic group it is. They¹re doing humanitarian work. You send the money.
It turns out that one of them is giving money to various Islamic causes that the
United States is concerned about. They come to your house. Maybe somebody has 
called into one of these anonymous tipster lines, saying, ³You know, this Amy 
Goodman. I¹m somewhat worried about her, simply because she¹s going -- and I 
think I¹ve seen some Muslim-looking people coming to her house.² They come in 
there, and they say, ³We want to talk to you.² They bring you downtown. You¹re a
legal alien, legal resident here. And you say, ³Well, look, I¹ve got my rights. 
I¹d like to talk to a lawyer.² They say, ³No, no. You don¹t have any rights.² 
³Well, then I¹m not going to talk to you.² ³Well, then now we¹re twice as 
concerned about you. We¹re going to spirit you down to Guantanamo, and we¹ll get
back to in a few years.² And, I mean, that could actually happen under this. And
these are not far-fetched ideas, as the professor knows. He¹s seen similar 

And with that, and I would love to continue this conversation, unfortunately 
I¹ve got to go back to my day job, back to the judiciary. I think this is going 
to go down as one of those black marks in the Congress. You know, I wasn¹t there
at the time, but virtually everybody voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution. When 
I came to the Senate, you couldn¹t find anybody there who thought that was a 
good idea. They knew it was a terrible mistake. You had members of congress 
supported the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II. 
Everybody knows that was a terrible mistake now. That day will come when 
everybody will look at this and say, ³What were we thinking?²

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Leahy, thanks very much for joining us. We only have about 
30 seconds. Michael Ratner, president of Center for Constitutional Rights, your 
final comment on this.

MICHAEL RATNER: This was really, as the senator said, probably the worst piece 
of legislation I¹ve seen in my 40-year career as a lawyer. The idea, and even 
the example Senator Leahy gave, of someone being picked up, you don¹t need 
anything. The President can decide tomorrow that you, Amy, or me, or 
particularly a non-citizen, can be picked up, put in jail forever, essentially, 
and if you're a non-citizen in Guantanamo or anywhere else in the world, you 
never get a chance to go to court to test your detention. It¹s an incredible 
thing, and any senator who voted for this, in my view, is essentially guilty, 
guilty, guilty of undermining basic fundamental rights and may well be guilty of
war crimes, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, thanks very much for joining us, president of the 
Center for Constitutional Rights.

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