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Judiciary Committee leaders put brakes on military commissions bill

[JURIST] Pressure from the Bush administration and the congressional leadership to fast-track a military commissions bill [JURIST news archive] met bipartisan resistance Monday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [committee materials]. Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website; JURIST news archive] called the habeas corpus provision of the draft legislation [PDF text] "inexplicable," echoing televised comments he made Sunday [JURIST report] suggesting that the provision violates Article 1, Section 9 [text] of the Constitution, which allows habeas writs to be suspended only "when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." The proposed Military Commissions Act of 2006, however, deprives the courts of habeas jurisdiction over detained alien enemy combatants, giving judicial recourse only to those actually charged by military commissions. "If the courts are not open to decide constitutional issues," Specter said today, "how is constitutionality going to be tested?"

The committee's ranking minority member, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website], described the provision as "un-American." According to his prepared remarks [text], Leahy said:

This provision would perpetuate the indefinite detention of hundreds of individuals against whom the Government has brought no charges and presented no evidence, without any recourse to justice whatsoever. ...

Going forward, the bill departs even more radically from our most fundamental values. It would permit the President to detain indefinitely – even for life – any alien, whether in the United States or abroad, whether a foreign resident or a lawful permanent resident, without any meaningful opportunity for the alien to challenge his detention.
The only other Judiciary Committee member at the hearing, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) [official website], spoke in favor of the bill, saying it safeguards detainees' by providing annual status reviews and rights of appeal following trial. But Thomas Sullivan, a Chicago attorney representing 10 detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], called those reviews "a sham." A range of rights groups, military lawyers and legal scholars have criticized the draft legislation [JURIST report], which emerged from a deal struck last week between top Senate Republicans and the White House. The New York Times has more.

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