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Restore habeas corpus rights to Guantanamo detainees

Caroline Fredrickson [Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office]: "When the 109th Congress passed the Military Commissions Act in September of last year there was a fear in the legal and human rights communities that this meant that detainees held in Guantanamo Bay and other facilities would be stripped of their due process rights. The Military Commissions Act gave the president new unchecked powers to detain abuse and try people at Guantanamo Bay and other government facilities around the world.

On February 13, Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut introduced legislation that would realign the balance of power. The "Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007" would restore habeas corpus and due process to those being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. It defines "enemy combatant" as someone who is involved in an armed conflict with our country — not simply a person the Bush administration finds suspect and wishes to detain. The Dodd bill would also block the federal government from making up its own rules on torture by returning to the basic human rights standards required by the time-honored Geneva Conventions.

Senator Dodd's legislation will restore the vital habeas corpus protection of having a court decide whether a person is being imprisoned unlawfully. This right is vital to many of those held at Guantanamo Bay — a place where nearly 400 men are being held, some of them for as long as five years, without being charged. Even the government has admitted that some of the detainees should not be there and are caught in a legal limbo without rights.

America has always been and must remain a nation that stands for the rule of law. The fundamental rights stripped from detainees must be restored. We should not be a country that runs the risk of putting innocent people in a cell and throwing away the key without any right to know why they are there — and without any right to appeal. The American Civil Liberties Union is committed to working with Members of Congress to reverse the damage done by the Military Commissions Act."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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