WASHINGTON The Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, was stymied in the U.S. Senate on Sept. 19, when the measure failed to garner the sixty requisite votes to send the bill to a final vote.
The proposed legislation would rescind a provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which legally eliminated the right of habeas corpus for all persons determined to be illegal enemy combatants.
Responding to the 56-43 vote in favor of a final vote, Senator Leahy claimed that, The vote today showed that a majority of the Senate supports our efforts to correct the historic mistake made in last years Military Commissions Act, but there is still more work to be done to overcome the Republican filibuster.
Opponents of the new act assert that granting habeas rights to enemy combatants would endanger national security and clog the American legal system with endless appeals by detainees.
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asked, Are we going toconduct warfare now and in the futurein a way that allows those we capture to sue us?
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a principal author of the provision against habeas rights in the Military Commissions Act, claimed that the restoration of such rights would amount to, an absolute disaster for this country.
In countering these arguments Senator Leahy asserted that revoking habeas corpus rights is not a threat to U.S. national security, but is instead a threat to U.S. citizens.
He said, The truth is that casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values.It also allows our enemies to accomplish something they could never achieve on a battlefieldwhittling away the liberties that make us who we are.
Furthermore, Senator Leahy emphasizes that the elimination of habeas rights for enemy combatants held by the United States puts American personnel in Iraq, both civilian and military, at greater risk. By denying basic rights to alien detainees, we encourage other nations to do the same to American civiliansand they will.
Mr. Leahy situates the importance of this legislation within the context of protecting the balance of power between the branches of government, and combating the expansion of executive power in the Bush administration.
We have an administration that at every opportunity has aggressively sought unchecked executive power, while working to erode or eliminate constitutionally enshrined checks on that power by the courts and by Congress. Stripping away habeas rightsis just the latest brazen attempt in a six-year-long effort to consolidate power in the Executive Branch. Congress has too often been complicit in this effort, and I hope we will begin to reverse this trend now.
As Senator Leahy acknowledges, habeas corpus does not grant detainees the right to a trial, or the right to appear personally in court. The habeas writ simply establishes that a person may petition to an independent judge for relief from unlawful or erroneous detention.
Mr. Leahy challenges the integrity of many decisions to label prisoners as, illegal enemy combatants, and claims that many current prisoners are being held in error. If the detainees held at Guantanamo truly are the worst of the worst of our enemies, surely it will be easy for the government to make a baseline showing in court that they are lawfully detained Habeas simply provides an opportunity for a detainee to argue to an independent federal judge that he or she is being held in error. If the detainee is properly held, this is a claim the government can easily overcome.
The most daunting challenge in the age of terrorism, Leahy concluded in his statements to the Senate floor on September 19, is to strike the proper balance between maintaining our national security against very real threats and preserving the civil liberties that are the proudest legacy of our Founders. More than ever, in the wake of September 11th, we must remain vigilant against security threats, but we must never forget that our values are the foundation that makes our nation strong.
Complete transcripts of Senator Leahys statements on the Senate floor can be watched, heard and read on his website: http://leahy.senate.gov/ .