Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Forces Committee introduced legislation in the House of Representatives Friday aimed at completely restoring the writ of Habeas Corpus, according to a press release on the American Civil Liberties Union’s website. The military commissions act, passed in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, effectively stripped anyone labeled an enemy combatant of their rights to challenge their detention in a genuine court of law.
Skelton’s introduction of the legislation in the house comes on the heels of a similar bill that won approval in the senate two weeks ago; you can read more about the senate legislation here.
Skelton’s effort is a bi-partisan one that has garnered support from both democrats and republicans. Many people from both the left and right wings have called for the writ of habeas corpus to be restored. They have alleged that, among other things, the enemy combatant status the Bush Administration is assigning to detainees is putting U.S. citizens at risk of being detained without being charged or allowed real court hearings in other countries. Critics have also alleged that the practice has given Al Qaeda fuel in their firestorm of criticisms against the United States.
According to the ACLU’s press release, Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU’s Legislative Office made these comments regarding the new legislation: “The ACLU is encouraged to see further action in Congress to undo a grave setback to individual liberty and freedom in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Chairman Skelton deserves praise for spearheading this bipartisan effort. As President Bush’s time in office runs out, the clock for those being held indefinitely at Guantanamo continues to tick. Congress needs to act to restore these fundamental rights for all individuals.”
The proposed legislation also aims to prevent detainees from being transferred illegally to other countries. This is seen as an answer to the extraordinary rendition program employed by the CIA, in which intelligence officers transport detainees to other countries where they are subjected to torture. You can read more about the program, and legal challenges posed to it by civil rights groups here.
The legislative counsel for the ACLU, Christopher Anders reportedly stated that: “Chairman Skelton today has taken a major step forward in the process to restore our Constitution. Having a bill sponsored by the chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee means that we will soon see this legislation get through Congress and onto the President’s desk. We expect to see a habeas restoration bill go to the President by this fall. The introduction of the Skelton bill in the House, coupled with the recent movement of similar legislation in the Senate can leave all Americans hopeful that our Constitution will soon be restored.”, according to the ACLU’s press release.
The American Civil Liberties Union