Habeas corpus: “You have the body.”
For 900 years, Western law has had habeas corpus as one of its foundations. No person can be arrested without probable cause of unlawful action. The Magna Carta, the Constitution of the United States and countless other documents guarantee this essential freedom. As with most freedoms, however, habeas corpus has been trampled upon in order to achieve political gain.
Perhaps the most infamous period of American history when habeas corpus came under fire was during the Red Scare, when suspected communists could be arrested on such hearsay evidence as reading certain pieces of literature, criticizing the government or flying a red flag (all freedoms clearly protected under the First Amendment). Perhaps the suspects were active in communist politics. Perhaps they taught about Marxism-Leninism. Most disturbingly, though, was that perhaps they did absolutely nothing unlawful. The individual pictured above in the yellow raincoat, for example, may be a modern American communist. He may simply be an anti-war protester. Fifty years ago, the sign he is holding would have been enough to try him for unpatriotic activities. Habeas corpus was in dire straits, as individuals were arrested for a wide variety of activities. Habeas corpus exists to protect these individuals from hearsay and extraordinarily weak evidence (i.e. the sign). As you know, the Cold War is over, trying people for communist activities has been found to be unconstitutional and this man (clearly) is able to protest as he pleases.
So why am I bringing all of this up now?
Today, the President signed a new bill into law giving him broad power to try detainees suspected of terrorist activities. While most of the bill is a good compromise that defines specific war crimes and applies the Geneva Conventions to terror detainees, it also has a glaring flaw. The bill prohibits terror detainees from suing the government on habeas corpus grounds, regardless of whether they were arrested in the United States or on foreign soil. Basically, this bill establishes charges of terrorism as a blank check for arrests, with or without substantial evidence.
I support the War on Terror. However, if America is going to spread democracy abroad, it simply must recognize that suspending habeas corpus is an absolute setback. Our moral authority is one of the most important weapons we have in the fight against terrorism. It is withering now with the suspension of habeas corpus. With all good hope, the Supreme Court will see the obvious unconstitutionality of a measure like this. Please do not let terrorism become a blank check for arrests.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. We are afraid. We must be strong. Your constitution belongs to you, regardless of war or peace. Terrorism is not an acceptable excuse for trimming it back. Hold the line, America. Fight terrorism with freedom. Fight the suspension of habeas corpus for any reason.