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Habeas Corpus

Sample paper 3 by Reid Pearson - Fall 2007.

Constitutional rights are the essence of our country. Our founding fathers provided us with a document designed to uphold all the personal freedoms they believed a country should possess. As Americans, we have grown to expect that these rights will never change. This is a devastating error of our judgment. Living in the United States, it is foolish and irresponsible to sit back and trust that the rights we've been given will never alter. Being part of a democracy means that constant action, observation, and attention is especially important. In 2006, one of our constitutional rights was taken from us and many were too blind to see it. With a majority vote and the President's signature, habeas corpus was no longer a right for all peoples. The stripping of Habeas Corpus was a dangerous step in our democracy and now we must stand up for our rights.

The right of habeas corpus is the right to know on what grounds one is being charged and the reason for which they are being held. It requires the court to legitimize the obtainment of a person. In the United States Constitution, article one section nine, it clearly states, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it." Our government had no right to remove this constitutional right, which is so important to our freedom. This right has been revoked in the past. Let's look at the situations which drove these decisions. On April 27, 1861, habeas corpus was repealed by President Lincoln in certain parts of the existing United States. This was done in response to riots, local militia actions, and the threat of the slave state Maryland leaving the union (Thomas, 2006). Union generals urged Lincoln to set up military courts to immediately prosecute confederates. After Lincoln was denied the right to withdraw habeas corpus by the Circuit Court, he ignored the courts request. The Civil War obviously demanded these drastic actions. Habeas corpus was also revoked in the 1870s, when President Grant suspended the right in some parts of South Carolina a civil right actions against the Ku Klux Klan. Racism also clearly called for this action. Finally, in September 2006, the Military Commissions Act, a bill that eliminated habeas corpus for any alien determined to be an enemy combatant, was passed by a vote of 65 - 34 (Thomas, 2006). President Bush signed the Act on October 17, 2006 and just like that, our rights had changed. It may seem in times like these, that this act is reasonable. However, the reality is, it will have everlasting and powerful consequences.

Under this legislation, if you are deemed a terrorist, you can be picked up, hauled away, and never seen again without anyone knowing. Who knows how many people this has happened to because those arrested were unable to tell anyone they were taken. Some of these people are then taken away to another country and tortured for information. Is this the way America was established? Are these American values? This legislation threatens the public in two ways. First it removes other inalienable freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights and second it opens up the interpretation of who can be defined as a terrorist.

Without habeas corpus, many of our other rights become useless. Look at the Bill of Rights and one will see that once a person is unfairly detained, their other rights go out the window. Amendment 1: Freedom of religion, speech, press, and peaceable assembly as well as the right to petition the government. A person doesn't have these freedoms once they are in prison. Amendment 2: Right to keep and bear arms. Once again, I don't think you can do this while locked up. Amendment 4: No search and seizures without probable cause. In jail you are searched as much as the guards and anyone else wants. And the list goes on. Once in jail, a person's rights are much more limited, in fact they are almost completely removed.

The definition of who the government can suspend habeas corpus for is vast and constantly changing. Many people believe we don't have to worry about the removal of this right because we are not terrorists. But who is a terrorist? While there is no universal definition, most of us think we have a fairly accurate picture of who or what a terrorist is. However, these mental pictures are not necessary accurate. There are many different types of terrorism: political, quasi, domestic, etc. Most people don't know about a new type of terrorism emerging. It is called eco-terrorism. Eco-terrorism is terrorism carried out for the sake of environmental or ecological purposes. Note that the definition of eco-terrorism is not the severe harming of environments by people, governments, or corporations. This is referred to as environmental terrorism. Eco-terrorism is term is believed to have come about from Ron Arnold, the Author of Ecoterror: The Violent Agenda to Save Nature. This type of terrorism is very puzzling. How is it possible to have a violent agenda to save nature? Companies such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Greenpeace, and the Animal Liberation Front (AFL) have all been criticized as eco-terrorists. Therefore, under the current legislation, these organizations could be considered terrorists. Furthermore, if a person supports these groups in anyway, they too could be labeled a terrorist. If the government felt threatened by you, or if they really wanted to, they could arrest and hold you without having to give a reason. Suddenly being a terrorist isn't so far from the average person. Any group that a citizen supports and the government doesn't may soon be dubbed a terrorist organization. I may be a terrorist for writing this paper. The removal of this right is much more threatening than the public realizes because soon, whoever the government wants may be considered a terrorist.

President Bush claimed that the passing of this bill was necessary in order for his administration to better carry out their jobs in protecting the American people. What it has done is scared the American people. He also claimed that simply debating the removal of Habeas Corpus was helping the enemy (Olbermann, 2006). Current efforts to resort the right have been made. A bill named the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 was approved by the United States Senate Judiciary Committee on June 7, 2007. This Act would allow Guantanamo Bay captives to access US courts with habeas corpus. Another current installment was that the Supreme Court agreed to hear outstanding habeas corpus, which means they may amend the Military Commissions Act of 2006 or do away with it completely. This debate in the Supreme Court began on September 17, 2007.

The election race is in full swing. The public has seen many of the leading representatives from both parties and are beginning to form their opinions. This election is a very important one, as it seems as though we haven't had a great leader in over a decade. Senator of Illinois, Barack Obama has vowed to regain the writ of habeas corpus if elected. In a dialogue with young Iowa voters, he questioned current American values and the restriction of personal freedoms. Based on the Senators comments, habeas corpus seems to be a very important issue to him, which could be good news.

Habeas corpus is not something we can afford to lose. It is not a loss that can be ignored. We need to fight to restore this right before it is too late, and the nostalgia of our previous rights and freedoms sets in. The destruction of habeas corpus leads to the loss of other rights, as well as unfair classifications of terrorists. Democracy is a government in which the people need to be constantly participating and critiquing. It is our duty to realize we've been wronged, and stand up for the ideals of our country.


Thomas, Steve. 2006. “War on Terror.”

http:// http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SP5087

Olbermann, Keith. 2006. “The death of habeas corpus.”