EDITORIAL: The corpse of habeas corpus

Habeas corpus is a legal protection embedded in centuries of English common law that guarantees a prisoner the right to petition the court if unlawfully imprisoned. It’s guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Until now.

The Bush administration has pushed a bill through Congress that shreds that historic protection.

The measure, passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate, is widely condemned because:

• it leaves the door open to use of torture and “evidence” obtained through such techniques;

• it undermines international and U.S. law, like the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996;

• it gives Bush and other top officials an escape hatch from responsibility or prosecution for war crimes;

• it puts U.S. troops at risk for torture if they are captured;

• it denies prisoners any ability to petition for release (habeas corpus).

Republican senators and far-right pundits claim that “terrorists” have no rights. But who decides if these prisoners are terrorists if there are no charges brought, no transparent court proceedings, and “information” against them is obtained by torture, often after kidnapping them off the streets?

What about Canadian Maher Arar, who was seized by U.S. agents at JFK airport and sent to Syria, where he was tortured for over a year, even though Canadian officials told the U.S. they had no evidence he was tied to terrorists? How can this be allowed to happen?

The Supreme Court has recognized the fact that the writ of habeas corpus is “the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.” Now the Bush administration has made itself judge, jury and executioner in its prosecution of the so-called war on terror. This is not what democracy looks like. This does not “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

It’s up to “we the people” to do the job and “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility.” Democracy is a verb — protecting and expanding it requires action. This last-minute congressional vote should provide ample motivation to do all you can to defeat the dangerous Bush clones this November.