Why Does Habeas Corpus Hate America
Tuesday 10 October 2006
Because the Mark Foley story began to break the night of September 28th, exploding the following day, many people may not have noticed a bill passed by the Senate that night.
Our third story on the Countdown tonight, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and what it does to something called "habeas corpus."
And before we reduce the very term "habeas corpus" to something vaguely recalled as sounding kinda like the cornerstone of freedom, or maybe kinda like a character from "Harry Potter," we thought a Countdown Special Investigation was in order.
Congress passed The Military Commissions Act to give Mr. Bush the power to deal effectively with America's enemies - those who seek to harm this country.
And he has been very clear about who that is:
"… for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America."
So the president said it was urgent that Congress send him this bill as quickly as possible, not for the politics of next month's elections, but for America.
"The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."
Because time was of the essence - and to ensure that the 9/11 families would wait no longer - as soon as he got the bill, President Bush whipped out his pen and immediately signed a statement saying he looks forward to signing the actual law … eventually.
He hasn't signed it yet, almost two weeks later, because he has been swamped by a series of campaign swings at which he has made up quotes from unnamed Democratic leaders, and because when he is actually at work, he's been signing so many other important bills, such as: The Credit Rating Agency Reform Act; the Third Higher Education Extension Act; ratification requests for extradition treaties with Malta, Estonia and Latvia; his proclamation of German-American Day; the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act; and his proclamation of Leif Erikson Day.
Still, getting the Military Commissions Act to the President so he could immediately mull it over for two weeks was so important, some members of Congress didn't even read the bill before voting on it. Thus, has some of its minutiae, escaped scrutiny.
One bit of trivia that caught our eye was the elimination of habeas corpus. which apparently used to be the right of anyone who's tossed in prison, to appear in court and say, "Hey, why am I in prison?"
Why does habeas corpus hate America … and how is it so bad for us?
Mr. Bush says it gets in the way of him doing his job.
[video clip] Bush: " … we cannot be able to tell the American people we're doing our full job unless we have the tools necessary to do so. And this legislation passed in the House yesterday is a part of making sure that we do have the capacity to protect you. Our most solemn job is the security of this country."
It may be solemn …
[video clip] Bush: "I do solemnly swear … "
But is that really his job? In this rarely seen footage, Mr. Bush is clearly heard describing a different job.
[video clip] … to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States..
Countdown has obtained a copy of this "Constitution of the United States."
And sources tell us it was originally snuck through the Constitutional Convention and state ratification in order to establish America's fundamental legal principles.
But this so-called Constitution is frustratingly vague about the right to trial. In fact, there's only one reference to habeas corpus at all. Quote: "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."
But even Democrats who voted against the Military Commissions Act concede that it doesn't actually suspend habeas corpus.
[video clip] Leahy: The bill before the Senate would not merely suspend the great writ, the great writ of habeas corpus, it would eliminate it permanently.
And there is considerable debate whether the conditions for suspending habeas corpus, rebellion or invasion, have been met.
[video clip] Leahy: conditions for suspending habeas corpus have not been met.
[video clip] Kerry: We're not in a rebellion, nor are we being invaded.
[video clip] Specter: We do not have a rebellion or an invasion.
[video clip] Biden: The United States is neither in a state of rebellion nor invasion.
[video clip] Byrd: We are not in the midst of a rebellion, and there is no invasion.
Countdown has learned that habeas corpus actually predates the "Constitution," meaning it's not just pre-September 11th thinking, it's also pre-July 4th thinking.
In those days, no one imagined that enemy combatants might one day attack Americans on native soil.
In fact, Countdown has obtained a partially redacted copy of a colonial "declaration" indicating that back then, "depriving us of Trial by Jury" was actually considered sufficient cause to start a War of Independence, based on the then-fashionable idea that "liberty" was an unalienable right.
Today, thanks to modern, post-9/11 thinking, those rights are now fully alienable.
The reality is, without habeas corpus, a lot of other rights lose their meaning.
But if you look at the actual Bill of Rights - the first ten amendments to that pesky Constitution - you'll see just how many remain.
Well, ok, Number One's gone.
If you're detained without trial, you lose your freedom of religion, speech, the press and assembly. And you can't petition the government for anything.
Number Two? While you're in prison, your right to keep and bear arms just may be infringed upon.
Even if you're in the NRA.
No forced sleepovers by soldiers at your house. OK. Three is unchanged.
You're definitely not secure against searches and seizures, with or without probable cause - and this isn't even limited to the guards.
Five … Grand juries and due process are obviously out.
Six. So are trials, let alone the right to counsel. Speedy trials? You want it when?
Seven. Hmmmm. I thought we covered "trials" and "juries" earlier.
Eight - So bail's kind of a moot point …
Nine: "Other" rights retained by the people. Well, if you can name them during your water-boarding, we'll consider them.
And Ten - powers not delegated to the United States federal government seem to have ended up there, anyway.
So as you can see, even without habeas corpus, at least one tenth of the Bill of Rights, I guess that's the Bill of "Right" now … remains virtually intact.
And we can rest easy knowing we will never, ever have to quarter soldiers in our homes … as long as the Third Amendment still stands strong.
The President can take care of that with a Signing Statement.