Sunday, June 15, 2008
Okay: why is habeas corpus important? Is it because the law forces you to grant the right? Is that the entire point? Is that why we don't allow people to be locked up on a whim, because the law says we have to grant people habeas review?
No. The reason we allow habeas petitions is that it's just flat out wrong to allow arbitrary detentions. If you need to detain someone, you need to be able to show that there's sufficient justification, that leaving them their freedom, that leaving them at peace, is too dangerous.
That shouldn't require debate. That should be settled. That's the founding principle of America, that all people are equal, and deserve freedom, that it's a terrible thing to impinge upon their freedom.
And we weren't founded on the principle that we folks living in America were special, and only we deserved freedom; no, our statement was that all people deserved freedom. Even scary foreigners who our Presidents insist are bad, bad people.
So the question becomes, how do we guard the freedom that even our President says is the gift of God to all people? Hmm? By giving the military complete control over their lives? By setting up hearings where they can be kept imprisoned without knowing the charges against them? By setting up hearings where they can't summon witnesses and compel testimony that might prove their innocence? By not giving them adequate representation?
And worst of all, by putting those hearings under the jurisdiction of the military? Folks, don't get me wrong here, the problem is not inherent with the military, but the military answers to the President. If the President is wrong, he can still order the military to go along, and unless his orders are patently illegal, the military must obey. They will do their jobs with honor - remember, the Supreme Court cases have mostly (or is it entirely?) been brought by military lawyers. But they also have a chain of command, and that can't help but have an effect.
It should be a no-brainer. If the US is holding someone, other than for a very short period of time, that person should have a hearing before an independent judge who will review the evidence and allow the defendant time to speak, and the right to present evidence. Maybe we'll need to hold some folks without actually charging them with a crime - this is a war, of sorts, after all - but at least we can make sure we're not making mistakes, and release those who are safe to release, and do so as quickly as possible.
But it's not a no-brainer. No, we have to argue that everyone deserves their freedom. We have to argue about whether limited hearings with secret evidence and no presumption of innocence are adequate substitutes for habeas corpus. It drives me buggy.
Is this really America? Or did I wake up in some alternate universe?