UPDATE: The hearing has been moved to 10:00 am ET.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has a hearing scheduled this morning, to begin at 10:30 am ET (in Dirksen 226), regarding gutting habeas protections for prisoners under American control. No word as yet on the witness list — I’m working on finding out who will testify and will update when I do. It doesn’t look like C-Span will be covering this hearing this morning (but they will be covering a Senate Democratic Policy Hearing on war planning, which should be a good one — there are a number of retired generals who will be testifying regarding Donald Rumsfeld’s bungling of the war planning and facts that have been hidden from the public — it will be on C-Span3 beginning at 1:30 pm ET).
We have covered this habeas issue quite a bit — see here, here, here, here, here, and here for starters — but I wanted to highlight some backstory on the reasons we have habeas corpus in the first place. You need to know why it is that this is was so important to the Founders of our nation — and why it ought to be so important to all of us now:
Of all of the legal protections that we hold as American ideals and as examples to other nations as embodied in our Bill of Rights, the right of habeas corpus is the only civil liberty to be held so important by the Founders that it was included in the Constitution itself. This week, the United States Senate voted to restrict that right of petition for grievance.
Such restriction was for enemy combatants held outside the United States, so why should any citizen care? Because a restriction on this fundamental right for some could mean restrictions for all of us down the line.
A right to challenge being held by the government for improper reasons is at the heart of our democracy — where such right was established to secure our rights to liberty and freedom, and to stop imprisonment of opposition candidates for political reasons.
The right of habeas corpus is our firewall against the tyranny of the majority — it dates back to the Magna Carta, which bound the king to the rule of law. To threaten habeas corpus protections tears at the very fabric of rights in this nation.
Here is why: if you are arrested under false or bogus charges, or without any charge whatsoever as reason for your detainment, you have a right to petition a court to ask that the charges against you be detailed and justified under the laws of this country. The state must justify its right to hold you under the law, or you must be set free — they cannot hold you without just cause.
What the Senate is asking is that we simply trust that our government is doing the right thing, and that they are only holding guilty persons in our name, and that the military tribunals who have been holding hearings on detainments will adequately address all constitutional problems when many of these detainees have had difficulties in gaining access to legal counsel, and that all of this being done in the name of the United States should be considered acceptable when we afford one standard of justice to our citizens and a completely different standard of justice to those we deem not worthy of it simply because they are non-citizens held in our legal custody.
This is simply wrong. What’s worse, there are also proposed provisions in the current torture bill under debate that would strip jurisdiction from federal courts as well. If you want to know why all of this is important — just read this.
Please take some time this morning to contact the offices of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and remind them — again — that the habeas provisions are too important to be frittered away. Please, if you live in Pennsylvania or Michigan, take the time to contact Sens. Specter and Levin — they are going to be key to blocking these abominable provisions.
Here are the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can phone toll free through the Capitol switchboard at 888-355-3588 and they will transfer you to the various Senate offices. (UPDATE: Seems there is a problem with the capitol switchboard number this morning. You can find individual Senator and Representative numbers here.) Here is also a list of FAX numbers for each member of the Judiciary Committee, in case you want to call and FAX:
Arlen Specter, Chairman – Pennsylvania – Fax (202) 228-1229
Orrin G. Hatch – Utah – Fax (202) 224-6331
Patrick J. Leahy – Vermont – Fax (202) 224-3479
Charles E. Grassley – Iowa – Fax (515) 288-5097
Edward M. Kennedy – Massachusetts – Fax (202) 224-2417
Jon Kyl – Arizona – Fax (202) 224-2207
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. – Delaware – Fax (202) 224-0139
Mike DeWine – Ohio – Fax (202) 224-6519
Herbert Kohl – Wisconsin – Fax (202) 224-9787
Jeff Sessions – Alabama – Fax (202) 224-3149
Dianne Feinstein – California – Fax (202) 228-3954
Lindsey Graham – South Carolina – Fax (864) 250-4322
Russell D. Feingold – Wisconsin – Fax (202) 224-2725
John Cornyn – Texas – Fax (972) 239-2110
Charles E. Schumer – New York – Fax (202) 228-3027
Sam Brownback – Kansas – Fax (202) 228-1265
Richard J. Durbin – Illinois – Fax (202) 228-0400
Tom Coburn – Oklahoma – Fax (202) 224-6008
We may never undo all of the Constitutional damage done by the Bush Administration during the course of our lifetimes — it may take more than one generation, frankly, to untangle this mess. But we can at least fight to save the pieces of the Constitution that seem to be up for grabs — and this is one fight well worth having. Thanks so much for all of your efforts on this.
The Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are outnumbered (as you can see from the above list), but the fight is worth having anyway — despite it being a battle we may lose in the short run. In order to fully win it, we have to have control of both houses of Congress. Let’s just think of this as even more incentive to kick some ass in November — but in the meantime, let’s spend some time today reminding the members of Congress that they have to actually DO their jobs in order to keep their jobs.
(The BBC Magazine also did a brief historical review of habeas corpus evolution a while back that I thought might be of interest to some readers. You can read it here.)
UPDATE: Witness list is out:
Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, Ret., President and Dean, Franklin Pierce Law Center, Concord, NH; Thomas P. Sullivan, Partner, Jenner & Block, Chicago, IL; Mr. Bruce Fein, Partner, Fein & Fein, Washington, D.C.; Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, United States Navy, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Arlington, VA; Mr. David Rivkin, Partner, Baker & Hostetler LLP, Washington, D.C.; Mr. Bradford Berenson, Partner, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, D.C.
Only one panel. That’s awfully short considering the gravity of the subject matter, don’t you think?