Senate Rejects Terror Suspect Habeas
The Senate has narrowly failed to pass habeas corpus protection for terrorist suspects:
The Senate narrowly rejected legislation on Wednesday that would have given military detainees the right to protest their detention in federal court. The 56-43 vote against the bill, by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., fell four votes shy of the 60 needed to cut off debate. It was a blow for human rights groups that say a current ban on habeas corpus petitions could lead to the indefinite detention of individuals wrongfully suspected of terrorism.
Steve Benen is frustrated:
First, every Democrat in the Senate supported restoring habeas, including conservative Dems from red states who are up for re-election. There is a patriotic party that’s still willing to stand up for American principles; it’s called the Democratic Party. Second, six Senate Republicans had the decency to break party ranks on the issue: Sens. Snowe (Maine), Sununu (N.H.), Specter (Pa.), Hagel (Neb.), Lugar (Ind.), and Smith (Ore.). And third, Joe Lieberman supported the Republican filibuster and voted with the GOP. What a disgrace.
Keep in mind, this was just the vote to allow a vote. It’s one thing for conservatives to oppose habeas corpus, but these guys wouldn’t even allow an up-or-down vote on a basic principle of Western Civilization. Indeed, it’s horrifying to think that supporting habeas is suddenly “old school” — as in Magna Carta in 1215 old school. But that’s where we’ve come, thanks to the radicalization of today’s Republican Party.
We’re in agreement that holding people who are neither prisoners of war nor criminals in prison indefinitely without at least some minimal measure of due process is bad policy. But can we dispense with the reverse-Coulter rhetoric?
Using parliamentary tactics to forestall a floor vote in the Senate on something that a majority would otherwise support is hardly something invented by the current Republican minority. More importantly, the large plurality who opposed this measure are neither unpatriotic nor radical; they merely differ on how far we should go in the name of protecting Americans from the very real threat of Islamist terrorism.
Those being held at Gitmo and elsewhere are not American citizens and therefore not entitled to the full protection of the Constitution. Nor are they soldiers, subject to the protocols of the Geneva Conventions. They’re accused terrorists caught as unprivileged belligerents in a conflict where Americans are being killed.
My sense is that they are nonetheless entitled to some modicum of due process so that they can present evidence on their behalf that they’re not who we claim they are. We’ve rounded up a large number of people whose language we don’t speak in a conflict where our enemy doesn’t wear uniforms. Some number of these people, then, are sure to be innocent bystanders or at least non-threatening. We need some orderly, fair process to sort that out.
It’s nonetheless understandable that some disagree, fearing that judges would order dangerous people released. During time of war, we’ve routinely violated our founding principles in the name of security, using the argument that “the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact.” Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus for American citizens. Woodrow Wilson restricted the freedom of expression. Franklin Roosevelt ordered Japanese Americans locked away in detention camps.
While I think those judgments were alarmist and unnecessary in addition to illegal, it’s not hard to see why they were made. Presidents take on a great burden of responsibility and “better safe than sorry” is a reasonable fallback position. Those of us pontificating from the sidelines don’t have to bear the consequences of being wrong.