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Senate Judiciary leaders introduce bill to restore habeas rights for detainees

[JURIST] US Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website; JURIST news archive], outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], and current ranking member of the committee Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] have introduced a bill which would restore habeas corpus rights to military detainees [JURIST news archive] and amend the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) [JURIST news archive]. A key provision in the MCA, which President Bush signed into law [JURIST report] last month, strips US courts of jurisdiction to consider writs of habeas corpus filed by detainees classified as enemy combatants.

Introducing the bill [statement text], S. 4081, Leahy said:

This bill would restore the great writ of habeas corpus, a cornerstone of American liberty for hundreds of years that Congress and the President rolled back in an unprecedented and unnecessary way with September's Military Commissions Act. Habeas corpus provides a remedy against arbitrary detentions and constitutional violations. It guarantees an opportunity to go to court, with the aid of a lawyer, to prove one's innocence. The Military Commissions Act eliminated that right, permanently, for any non-citizen determined to be an enemy combatant, or even "awaiting" such a determination. That includes the approximately 12 million lawful permanent residents in the United States today, people who work for American firms, raise American kids, and pay American taxes.
Last month, US Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) [official website] introduced legislation [press release] that would restore habeas corpus rights [JURIST report] to military detainees and make other amendments to the MCA. Since its passage, the MCA has come under fire not only from Democrats but also from the judiciary, human rights groups and foreign countries. Lawyers representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] petitioned [JURIST report] the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in early November to declare the suspension of habeas rights unconstitutional. In an amicus brief [PDF text] in the case, seven retired federal judges urged the appeals court to rule that parts of the MCA violate the Constitution. McClatchy Newspapers has more.

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