Wow. Lots of talk today in blog land about Habeas Corpus. My friends at both Automatic Rebalancing and the Cultural Cuisinart have interesting articles looking at the subject from differing points of view. Now I am obviously no legal scholar, and I promise to return to posting stupid YouTube videos and info about Team Fortress 2 shortly. However, there are certain things about the recent issue surrounding the Supreme Court's recent ruling stating that foreign nationals detained as enemy combatants in places such as Guantanamo Bay do in fact have the right to seek a writ of Habeas Corpus that bother me. I would gladly like to be educated as to why my take on this issue is wrong.
Let's start with just a very basic definition of the concept of Habeas Corpus to set the stage. Wikipedia defines Habeas Corpus in full here. The reader's digest definition is that Habeas Corpus is a summons with the force of a court order addressed to the custodian (such as a prison official) demanding that a prisoner be brought before the court, together with proof of authority, allowing the court to determine whether that custodian has lawful authority to hold that person, or, if not, the person should be released from custody. This is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest single protections of individual liberties against governmental tyranny. Basically, if you have been arrested, then you have the right to know why that is. If the person keeping you in prison can not adequately justify why they are holding you, then the court can order you to be released. Seams pretty straight forward to me.
This supreme court ruling has a lot of peoples feathers rustled over how we can extend to people who are not U.S. citizens this basic legal right. To me, it seams hypocritical not to. Follow my logic train for a bit. The Automatic Rebalancer throws the name of Osama Bin Laden into his article as a touch point. The concept that we can entertain the idea that even Bin Laden should be extended to U.S. legal conceit that you are guilty until proven innocent seams to offend him greatly. Now I am certainly not defending Osama Bin Laden. He has been responsible for committing many great acts of evil in our world and caused a great deal of suffering in our country and others around the world. He should be held accountable for his actions, and I hope some day that he is. However, if he is ever apprehended by U.S. military personnel who are acting as representatives of our country and our government then he should have the same legal rights as anyone else who is subject to prosecution under our country's system of laws. If our nations top legal minds can't come up with evidence to justify his detention by our government according to our laws then that is a failure on their part.
I am proud that I live in a country where it is acknowledged by our legal system that the laws of our country should apply to all individuals who are subject to them. Not just citizens. Bin Laden and his friends are being pursued by representatives of our government largely as a result of the actions that he has taken to cause harm and damage to American citizens and property. He violated our laws. Timothy McVeigh committed similar acts against our citizens and was punished according to our laws governing such actions, but also had the protections allowed by those same sets of laws. As far as I can see the only difference between these two individuals is what corner of the world they happened to be born in. If we can not afford a foreign combatant legal protections, then we can not hold them accountable to our laws ether. If our intention is to capture Bin Laden and then have his matter decided by an international court, then those are the rules and protections he should be afforded.
The final point I would like to make regarding this debate is actually that by framing the conversation around Osama Bin Laden unfairly shifts the focus of what I believe is at the heart of this ruling. This ruling is not about letting a man like Bin Laden go free. This ruling is a nod to the important necessity that people we do detain, foreign citizen or not are being held for reasons that they are clearly informed of, and being held justly. As I said before, if our sharpest legal minds can not justify the reasons why someone who deserves to be held is being held then that is a failing on our part. I am glad that our country can recognize the necessity to ensure that the rules are being followed.
One interesting side point brought up by MadTypist at the Cultural Cuisinart that I find odd is John McCain's disapproval of this ruling. It surprises me that a man who personally endured treatment far worse then what has been reported at Guantanamo Bay while he was a POW in Vietnam for 5 years can not realize the importance of a ruling of this nature.
(Just a Disclaimer.) It should be known the while I have often taken issue with the views expressed by the Automatic Rebalancer that I hold him to be one of my nearest and dearest friends. He is a stand up guy and I respect his opinions even though I may not share them. Much love to you Major.