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Why The Habeas Corpus Ruling Was So Right

By James Donahue

Senator John McCain recently blasted the U.S. Supreme Court, saying its 5-4 ruling granting Guantanamo Bay detainees the right of habeas corpus “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”

McCain, who seeks to succeed George W. Bush as president under the GOP banner, lamented that the ruling will cause a wave of frivolous challenges that will tie up Justice Department lawyers for years.

McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war, said he has worked to ensure that the U.S. military does not torture prisoners but said the detainees at Guantanamo are still “enemy combatants. These are people who are not citizens. They do not and never have been given the rights that citizens in this country have.”

He added that it is his opinion that “there are some bad people down there.”

Most outspoken among the dissenting judges was Justice Antonin Scalia, who said the ruling harbored the “ultimate, unexpressed goal” of extending the ruling far beyond the Cuban naval base and give courts “the power to review the confinement of enemy prisoners held by the Executive anywhere in the world.” He used words like disastrous, devastating and tragic to describe the ruling.

In contrast, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said in a statement that the court decision “ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice while also protecting our core values.

The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush Administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo – yet another failed policy supported by John McCain. This is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law.”

We believe Obama is dead-on correct in his assessment of this issue.

Because it is a Latin phrase, the name habeas corpus may be confusing to most Americans, but it is a vital legal check that protects our Constitutional right against arbitrary and unlawful arrest and imprisonment.

The words habeas corpus mean “you have the body.” In other words, once a person is placed under arrest and his body held in a prison cell, our laws give that individual the right to demand that the court review his case and decide if he or she is imprisoned lawfully or be released.

All U.S. citizens have the right to seek release by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which, in effect, forces a judge to review his or her case.

Many of the prisoners held at Guantanamo were arrested shortly after 9-11 and they have been held there, without legal counsel or the right to have a judge review their guilt ever since. Now that the high court has opened the door to habeas corpus, information about other illegal activities is beginning to emerge.

At one time, it is believed that up to 750 “suspects” were held at Guantanamo Bay. About 250 of these have been released or transferred to custody of their native countries. Many of these were quickly released after authorities found no evidence of criminal activity.

When all is said and done, we must wonder how many actual “enemy combatants” are being held at the base, and how many innocent civilians have been caught up in the Bush “War on Terror” net and held behind bars all those years without cause.

If Americans believe that our citizens have the right to habeas corpus, then why do we not believe all citizens of our planet deserve equal treatment? Who are we to hold people of other nations in our prisons without giving them the same respect and right that our Constitution guarantees us? Does Mr. Bush think Americans are superior to everyone else?

The last major world player that thought that way was named Adolph Hitler.