Viva Habeas Corpus!
Thursday, June 19, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
There's been a lot of back-and-forth between the Obama and McCain camps this week about the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding extending the writ of habeas corpus to the prisoners locked up at Gitmo. According to McCain:
"The United States Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision which I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country. Sen. Graham and Sen. Lieberman and I had worked very hard to make sure that we didn't torture any prisoners, that we didn't mistreat them, that we abided by the Geneva Conventions, which applies to all prisoners. But we also made it perfectly clear, and I won't go through all the legislation we passed, and the prohibition against torture, but we made it very clear that these are enemy combatants, these are people who are not citizens, they do not and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have. And my friends there are some bad people down there. There are some bad people. So now what are we going to do. We are now going to have the courts flooded with so-called, quote, Habeas Corpus suits against the government, whether it be about the diet, whether it be about the reading material. And we are going to be bollixed up in a way that is terribly unfortunate, because we need to go ahead and adjudicate these cases. By the way, 30 of the people who have already been released from Guantanamo Bay have already tried to attack America again, one of them just a couple weeks ago, a suicide bomber in Iraq. Our first obligation is the safety and security of this nation, and the men and women who defend it. This decision will harm our ability to do that."
This is of course, ridiculous. #1, Habeas Corpus is about the right to know why the government is detaining you. It doesn't have anything to do with challenging your right to release due to diet or reading material, as McCain suggests. #2, there's the bizarre notion among conservatives that every single person in Gitmo is automatically guilty.

Regarding #1 - What Habeas Corpus is:
The Anonymous Liberal has a great post up discussing why even Bin Laden is entitled to Habeas Corpus. The whole thing is a great read (and you must all go consume it in its entirety), but here's the key passage:
But beyond that obvious point, there's a deeper ignorance at work here. Embedded in Hayes question is the bizarre and completely unamerican notion that your legal rights should somehow depend on how "bad" a person you are. The more serious the crimes for which you stand accused, the less rights you should have under the law. But that's quite obviously not how any system of rights is supposed to operate. Hayes' question is like asking whether a serial killer has the right to counsel or the right to a jury trial. Of course he does. The whole point of due process is to determine whether someone is guilty. It's the punishment that is supposed to vary depending on the seriousness of the crime, not the process.
Seriously. Does anyone in their right mind think there isn't enough evidence for the U.S. Government to make a case in open court that Bin Laden is guilty? Habeas Corpus is about the government stating why they are detaining the person - to prove that the detention isn't arbitrary, and to make sure that the legal process gets started.

In her article "McCain's terror errors", Rosa Brooks makes the following point:
Obama's point boiled down to common sense: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Our federal courts have been in business for more than 200 years. They've tried brutal Mafia bosses who controlled entire American cities, violent drug lords, Nazis, spies and the Oklahoma City bombers. U.S. courts have procedures for handling sensitive national security evidence, and they have already successfully tried Al Qaeda terrorists, including "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid and 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui. These men had their day in court, made idiots of themselves, and now they're locked away in a U.S. supermax prison.

Better still, they're now rightly dismissed by the rest of the world as megalomaniacal thugs -- not the kind of guys anyone would want to emulate. In contrast, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his buddies remain untried at Guantanamo, insisting proudly that they're "warriors" against the mighty United States -- and as Obama commented, that has "given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, 'Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims.' "
To me that's the heart of the problem I see. Despite the occasion mishap, overall, I think we have a solid legal system. There's this undercurrent of distrust for the legal branch, with people slinging around words like "activist judges" that betray a serious misunderstanding about how our legal system works and what the roles of judges, juries and lawyers are. Sure, it's not perfect, but by and large, THE SYSTEM WORKS.

As for point #2, the assumed guilt of the people at Gitmo, well... that runs contrary to both the spirit of the American legal system (innocent until proven guilty), and more importantly it's contrary to the apparent facts on the ground. McClatchy's - the only news source out there that seems to remember what their job/responsibility is as news people - has a fascinating (and depressing) article on just how many of the people who were/are at Gitmo were actually completely innocent or at worst, minor players. A brief excerpt:
McClatchy interviewed 66 released detainees, more than a dozen local officials — primarily in Afghanistan — and U.S. officials with intimate knowledge of the detention program. The investigation also reviewed thousands of pages of U.S. military tribunal documents and other records.

This unprecedented compilation shows that most of the 66 were low-level Taliban grunts, innocent Afghan villagers or ordinary criminals. At least seven had been working for the U.S.-backed Afghan government and had no ties to militants, according to Afghan local officials. In effect, many of the detainees posed no danger to the United States or its allies.

The investigation also found that despite the uncertainty about whom they were holding, U.S. soldiers beat and abused many prisoners.

Prisoner mistreatment became a regular feature in cellblocks and interrogation rooms at Bagram and Kandahar air bases, the two main way stations in Afghanistan en route to Guantanamo.

While he was held at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, Akhtiar said, "When I had a dispute with the interrogator, when I asked, 'What is my crime?' the soldiers who took me back to my cell would throw me down the stairs."
Remember people, these abuses are being commited in your name.
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On 2:46 PM , Beers said...

Nice article there. I think the thing I found most interesting about this all is John Mccain's stance on the issue because these prisioners are "Enemy combatants." You would think a man who spent 5 years in a Vietnamese prison camp would be a bit more sympathetic to the rights of prisoners in this type of situation.

On 7:44 AM , Mad Typist said...

I used to think a lot of things about John McCain that are sadly no longer true.

Again, habeas corpus isn't a "reward" for good people, nor is taking it away supposed to be a viable way to "punish" people. The legal system has a way to judge people and then to punish them appropriately. Habeas corpus is about protecting the government from itself, in a way, from abusing the power of detention (one of the scariest powers the government has over a person).