Killing Habeas Corpus

12.01.06 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Habeas corpus refers to the right of a person who has been detained by the government to challenge his detention in a court of law. Although the U.S. Constitution does not permit the suspension of habeas corpus except in case of invasion or rebellion, last September Congress did so anyway at the behest of the Bush Administration.

In a startling display of how easy it can be to disable even the most elementary constitutional protections, Congress enacted the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which would deprive suspected enemy combatants held abroad of their ability to seek judicial review of their status.

Proposed limits on habeas corpus were the subject of an intense and contentious hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee recently, the record of which has just been published.

See “Examining Proposals to Limit Guantanamo Detainees’ Access to Habeas Corpus Review,” Senate Judiciary Committee, September 25.

Some of the more electric moments in the hearing were recounted in The New Yorker this week in a profile of Sen. Arlen Specter, who inexplicably condemned the proposed new restrictions on habeas corpus and then voted in favor of them. See “Killing Habeas Corpus” by Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, December 4.

“In my view, [the Military Commissions Act] has dishonored our Nation’s proud history,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who introduced legislation on November 16 that would repeal several of the Act’s provisions.