jeudi, septembre 21, 2006

Whose Life is it Anyway?

Lat. "you have the body" Prisoners often seek release by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully and whether or not he should be released from custody. A habeas corpus petition is a petition filed with a court by a person who objects to his own or another's detention or imprisonment. The petition must show that the court ordering the detention or imprisonment made a legal or factual error. Habeas corpus petitions are usually filed by persons serving prison sentences. In family law, a parent who has been denied custody of his child by a trial court may file a habeas corpus petition. Also, a party may file a habeas corpus petition if a judge declares her in contempt of court and jails or threatens to jail her. Electric Law
Habeas corpus is one of those phrases that is both maddening and a wonderful proof of our mixed breed American heritage. Where's the nursery rhyme that will help the average schlemiel remember what it means? "You have the body"...yeah, wanna make something of it?
However, in keeping with my new resolution to look up words I didn't comprehend instead of looking sage and erudite when someone mentioned them at a party or in a speech (or on the pages of the newspaper, for that matter), I decided to look up 'habeas corpus." I had the feeling that the precise meaning of this term might be pretty important in following the battle over the status of prisoners being held at Guantanamo and other potential future suspects in our battle against "terror."
In all of the outcry (still limited to a relatively small segment of the American public, not to mention some of the smarter members of Congress) over the rights of prisoners to see secret evidence or over the Bush administration's wish to define for itself the meaning of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, the fact that the Administration wishes to deny federal courts any jurisdiction over the Guantanamo cases has been almost ignored.
Congress has already apparently said that future alleged terrorists can't appeal their imprisonment in federal courts under habeas corpus. But if the President has his way, the men now languishing at the prison who have already filed petitions won't be able to have their day in court, either.
Forget about whether you can trust the word of this Administration. Make up your own mind about that. The fact is that we don't know whether these men or guilty or innocent...don't they deserve a full hearing in the sunlight of the American legal system?
Even if you think that these prisoners, whoever they are, don't deserve American justice, would you like to see the tables turned on us? If your son or daughter was imprisoned in an allegedly democratic foreign country (say, Italy or Finland), would you like to see them cast into the darkness of a judicial system where the evidence against them was secret and they were tried by military tribunals?
It seems as though each day brings new revelations of this Administration's assault on basic tenets of American democracy. That doesn't mean that we should stop being shocked, however. Or stop fighting. Today they are dicing with the lives of nameless, faceless "terrorist subjects..." Tomorrow...exactly who did you say you were?

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