Habeas Corpus, R.I.P. (1215 - 2006)
With a smug stroke of his pen, President Bush is set to wipe out a safeguard against illegal imprisonment that has endured as a cornerstone of legal justice since the Magna Carta.
This bill is not a national security issue—this is about torturing helpless human beings without any proof they are our enemies. Perhaps this could be considered if we knew the administration would use the power with enormous care and thoughtfulness. But of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the innocent that has already taken place.
Death by torture by Americans was first reported in 2003 in a New York Times article by Carlotta Gall. The military had announced the prisoner died of a heart attack, but when Gall saw the death certificate, written in English and issued by the military, it said the cause of death was homicide. The “heart attack” came after he had been beaten so often on this legs that they had “basically been pulpified,” according to the coroner.
The version of the detainee bill now in the Senate not only undoes much of the McCain-Warner-Graham work, but it is actually much worse than the administration’s first proposal. In one change, the original compromise language said a suspect had the right to “examine and respond to” all evidence used against him. The three senators said the clause was necessary to avoid secret trials. The bill has now dropped the word “examine” and left only “respond to.”
In another change, a clause said that evidence obtained outside the United States could be admitted in court even if it had been gathered without a search warrant. But the bill now drops the words “outside the United States,” which means prosecutors can ignore American legal standards on warrants.
The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to cover anyone who has “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” Quick, define “purposefully and materially.” One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.
The bill simply removes a suspect’s right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.
Read the rest and weep.
Update: Ivins references a story in the Columbia Journalism Review that examines how Carlotta Gall's story never recieved the attention it should have in the lead up to the war. Make no mistake about it, Abu Ghraib was not unique, nor was it just a few "bad apples."
As it happens, two years later the Times uncovered military investigative files on the Bagram case detailing just how big a story had been buried. The files, the Times reported on May 20, 2005, offered “ample testimony that harsh treatment by some interrogators was routine and that guards could strike shackled detainees with virtual impunity.” The beatings and other interrogation tactics — prisoners deprived of sleep, threatened with dogs, and sexually humiliated — were later used at Abu Ghraib. Dilawar, who officials later acknowledged was innocent, had been repeatedly hit with a “common peroneal strike” — a blow just above the knee. The result, a coroner later testified, was that his legs had “basically been pulpified.” The Times also reported that officers who had overseen the Bagram prison at the time were promoted; another, who had lied to investigators, was transferred to help oversee interrogations at Abu Ghraib and awarded a Bronze Star. [emphasis mine]