Junking Habeas Corpus

The principle of habeas corpus is a demand that free people make toward state power. If free people are going to respect a state’s power to lock people up, then that state must respect a free people’s demand to see the causes and the evidence for any arrest.

So it is chilling to read the section on habeas corpus Matters included in the recently passed Military Commissions Act of 2006:

“No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.”

What this section says is that in the eyes of the United States, aliens are not to be granted the rights of a free people. And this makes the United States a threat to free people everywhere.

There are so-called conservatives who say that the United States does not owe the right of habeas corpus to aliens. They argue that habeas corpus is a Constitutional Right and therefore a right that belongs exclusively to the people of the United States.

But the right of habeas corpus was not invented by the United States Constitution, and it cannot be trademarked as territorial property, made by, or exclusively for citizens of the USA. The Right of habeas corpus was written into the United States Constitution because it was already in the 18th Century a time-honored principle for free people anywhere.

A state that revokes its own obligations to habeas corpus is a state that declares itself infallible. And an infallible state is either exceptionally wise or exceptionally dangerous. But if the American people believe that their leadership is exceptionally wise, shouldn’t they revoke habeas corpus for themselves, first?

It’s scandalous enough that Congress would revoke habeas corpus, but when Congress does it just a month before it goes up for re-election, the timing suggests that we have become a nation of vicious people who would cheer the unfreedom of others in the name of freedom for ourselves.

In the Military Commissions Act of 2006 we find a mirror to show us what we have become in the name of the twin towers massacre of Sept. 11. Just a little ways down the page from the sentence that revokes habeas corpus for alien enemy combatants is another sentence that makes the new rules retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001.

But I hear some readers asking: what’s wrong with locking up a terrorist and throwing away the key? To which I answer, maybe nothing. But when a state gets to declare in advance who the terrorist is and never is obliged to respect that person’s rights to due process, then we have made a state which can declare its own infallibility. And what free people can applaud the idea of an infallible state that can lock people up and throw away the key.

In our coming electoral response to the Congress of the United States we will choose between those who voted for an infallible state and those who voted against it. And in our choices at the ballot box, we will tell the rest of the world whether the people of the United States stand with them or against them when it comes to supporting the traditions of free people wherever they happen to be born.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at gmosesx@prodigy.net



Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. Moses is a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com