Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Late, the Great, Writ of Habeus Corpus

Emily Bazelon of Slate tells us that we better start getting used to life without habeus corpus -- for all prisoners in the U.S. legal system.

Tucked into the renewal of the Patriot Act, which Congress will reconsider in December, is an unrelated provision that would make it harder for American prisoners to challenge their convictions in federal court. Congress may also soon vote to limit the rights of foreign detainees in Guantanamo Bay to apply to federal court.

What's driving the effort to close off federal courts from prisoners? Have prisoners been exploiting legal loopholes to cut short their sentences? Hardly. The number of federal appeals brought by prisoners -- and the success rate of those appeals -- has steadily dropped for the last five years. Federal judges themselves decided as a body to oppose the current efforts in Congress to cut back further on prisoners' appeals.

Still, some lawmakers are determined to bend the courts to their will. If they really get their way, they'll eviscerate the centuries-old right of habeas corpus review as we know it -- leaving all of us increasingly subject to the unilateral power of executive detention. Why stop with Jose Padilla or Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri if Congress is ready to let prosecutors lock up anyone and keep them there?

For those who wonder how something like this could happen when we have the U.S. Constitution, here's the answer (or at least my answer): The Constitution is the guarantor of our freedom, it's true. But all by itself it will not work. It's just a piece of paper, after all. It needs us -- we the people -- to fight for it, defend it, and protect it. And most of the almost 300 million people in this country haven't been doing that. Many of them have been too busy supporting the men and women who fight for, defend, and protect the U.S. Constitution from the attempts of Afghans and Iraqis to shred it.

There is a bright side, though. At least now we know that the Iraqis and Afghans weren't the ones trying to destroy the U.S. Constitution. It's still not too late for the American people to get off their duffs (and I include Congress in that -- they're the American people too, right?) and start fighting for our freedom where that freedom is actually threatened: here, not 10,000 miles away.

I'll say it again: There's no place like home.

No comments: