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House Democrats introduce bill to restore habeas corpus
Mike Sheehan
Published: Thursday March 8, 2007
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Powerful House Democrats have introduced legislation intended to restore the right of habeas corpus.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who chairs the Homeland Security Subcommitee on Intelligence, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, announced today the presentation of bills that would reverse "problematic parts of the Military Commissions Act," according to a statement released by Harman's office.

"Both the 'Restoring the Constitution Act' and the 'Habeas Corpus Restoration Act' will bring credibility to the process of detaining terrorist suspects by placing it within a legal framework," the statement begins. "This includes: restoring habeas corpus, narrowing the definition of 'unlawful enemy combatant' as defined in the Military Commissions Act, prohibiting evidence obtained under coercion, and affirming the Geneva Conventions."

Harman herself says in the release, "The Administration has never completely found its way out of the 'fog of law' that set in after September 11."

She continues, "No one questions that September 11 and the threat of future attacks required a swift, decisive, and forceful response. Many Members -- me included -- offered to help the Administration create a legal framework to guide this response, setting the ground rules for detaining, interrogating, and eventually trying terrorism suspects.

"We had an opportunity to show the world that the United States could fight those who would do us harm and protect our core values. That we could be both strong and just," Harman says. "We missed this opportunity."

She rips the Bush administration because it "chose to act unilaterally, claiming for itself the right to ignore long-standing US and international law regarding the treatment of detainees."

In the process, "the United States has paid a steep price in eroded moral authority," she argues. Yet she insists, "There is no reason why we can't fight the War on Terror and live up to our obligations under US law and the Geneva Conventions."

The bills are companions to Senate legislation introduced by Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT), who is running for president, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Arlen Specter (R-PA). An effort in September 2006 to restore habeas corpus was rejected by the then-Republican controlled Senate.

Excerpts from the Harman statement, available in full at her official site, follow...


The United States has never been as unpopular in the world as it is now. We have flouted the very legal protections that we have sought to export to the rest of the world. We have undermined international human rights standards that we helped create, and which we have used to press other nations to protect the rights of their citizens.


I've been briefed on our surveillance, counter-terrorism, and interrogation programs. I've been to Guantanamo Bay three times. And I can tell you that a clear legal framework would empower - not limit - those who fight the War on Terror. We would ensure those who act on our behalf that they are doing so legally.

Congress had the opportunity to get this right last year, when we considered the Military Commissions Act. Some of our Members - Senators McCain and Graham among them - made valiant efforts to produce a bill that was consistent with our core values. But the White House prevailed, and the resulting legislation did little more than codify the rules already in place.

The two bills that Congressman Nadler and I introduced today would roll back certain provisions of the Military Commissions Act. The "Habeas Corpus Restoration Act" would reaffirm the right of habeas corpus, which allows all those detained by the government to challenge their detention before an independent court. The right - which dates back to the Magna Carta -is as central to the American conception of liberty as any other in the Constitution.

The "Restoring the Constitution Act" goes further, restoring a host of rights and procedural protections stripped away by the Military Commissions Act. The bill narrows the vague and potentially limitless applicability of the Military Commissions Act. It affirms the importance and applicability of the Geneva Conventions. It prohibits the use of coerced testimony, and gives the trial judge more discretion to ensure a fair trial.

We all want the United States to use all tools at its disposal to fight terrorism and protect our interests. But we must do so under the rule of law, and in a manner consistent with our values. These bills are an important course correction.