Senate bars bill to restore detainee rights
By Susan Cornwell
Wed Sep 19, 2007
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate voted on Wednesday against
considering a measure to give Guantanamo detainees and other
foreigners the right to challenge their detention in the U.S. courts.
The legislation needed 60 votes to be considered by lawmakers in the
Senate, narrowly controlled by Democrats; it received only 56, with 43
voting against the effort to roll back a key element of President
George W. Bush's war on terrorism.
The measure would have granted foreign terrorism suspects the right of
habeas corpus, Latin for "you have the body," which prevents the
government from locking people up without review by a court.
Congress last year eliminated this right for non-U.S. citizens labeled
"enemy combatants" by the government. The Bush administration said
this was necessary to prevent them from being set free and attacking
The move affected about 340 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives
held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. It also affects
millions of permanent legal residents of the United States who are not
U.S. citizens, said one of the sponsors of the bipartisan measure,
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
"Any of these people could be detained forever without the ability to
challenge their detention in federal court" under the changes in law
Congress made last year, Leahy said on the Senate floor. This was true
"even if they (authorities) made a mistake and picked up the wrong
"This was a mistake the last Congress and the (Bush) administration
made, based on fear," Leahy said.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican opposing the
measure, said lawmakers should not allow "some of the most brutal
vicious people in the world to bring lawsuits against their own (U.S.)
troops" who had picked up the detainees on the battlefield.
Giving habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees would "really intrude
into the military's ability to manage this war," Graham said, adding
that it was "something that has never been granted to any other
prisoner in any other war."
"Our judges don't have the military background to make decisions as to
who the enemy is," Graham told the Senate.
Congress eliminated habeas rights as part of the Military Commissions
Act, which also created new military tribunals to try the Guantanamo
prisoners on war crimes charges.
Congress was led by Republicans when the act was rushed through,
shortly before new elections put Democrats in control.
Sen. Arlen Specter, another sponsor of the bill and a Pennsylvania
Republican, noted that the right to habeas corpus was a protection
against arbitrary arrest enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and dating
back to the English Magna Carta of 1215.
Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments
from lawyers from Guantanamo prisoners challenging the law to
eliminate the habeas right.
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