- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007


This week, House Democrats say they plan to hold hearings on a misguided bill that would grant habeas corpus rights to terrorist detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. The proposal would allow terrorists to publicly challenge their status as detainees in the U.S. court system, fracturing the cohesive structure already in place to ensure that highly dangerous suspects are held and processed in a secure and timely fashion.

House Republican leaders are furious that Democrats are seeking to give unprecedented legal protections to terrorists, calling the measure a “terrorist bill of rights.” The Republicans are justified in protesting the plan that would give special rights to terrorists — rights not afforded to our own men and women in the armed services serving overseas.

As ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter has repeatedly tried to attach his version of the bill to legislation on the floor. The Pennsylvania Republican’s measure mirrors the House proposal made by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, who has strong support from House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Michigan Democrat. Both men have indicated they plan to hold hearings on the matter soon.

This attempt to grant expanded access to U.S. courts has garnered support from a broad ideological swath, everyone from the American Civil Liberties Union to the American Conservative Union. They assert that it is hypocritical for the United States to proclaim the virtues of democracy abroad while denying the right of habeas corpus, a concept dating back to the Magna Carta and widely held as a fundamental building block for a democratic judicial system. However, their claim is irrelevant for several reasons. Andrew McCarthy of Foundation for the Defense of Democracies notes that one reason is that these terrorists — most of whom are not U.S. citizens and thus lacking the same degree of constitutional protection — are already afforded the right to publicly challenge their imprisonment under the Military Commissions Act adopted by Congress and signed by President Bush last year.

Mr. McCarthy (a former assistant U.S. attorney who led the successful prosecution of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman for the plot to bomb New York landmarks) maintains that the approximately 340 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay have ample access to justice through Combatant Status Review Tribunals, where evidence obtained through classified or sensitive procedures can be presented in order to prosecute the defendants. Prisoners are allowed appeals under these tribunals, which can ultimately punt the matter to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, widely held to be the second-highest court in the country.

When it comes to legislating on issues in a war for our very survival, the first rule for members of Congress should be “Do no harm.” Unfortunately, the flawed measures advocated by Mr. Specter, Mr. Skelton and Mr. Conyers fail to meet that standard. They would fling open the door for detainees to gain access to courts nationwide, beyond the D.C. circuit court, whose judges now are gaining subject matter expertise in processing these high-stakes cases without compromising vital information that could help the enemy.

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