Under the Bush administration, U.S. citizens can be detained as enemy combatants and arrested without being charged of any crime.
At today’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales whether any U.S. citizens are “being held today, for over a month, who have been denied habeas corpus or access to an attorney.” Instead of giving an answer, Gonzales replied, “[Y]ou’re asking me a question I hadn’t really thought about.”
Sherman then followed up and asked whether there any “U.S. citizens being held now by foreign governments or foreign organizations, without access to attorneys, as a result of rendition.” Gonzales again said, “It’s just — quite frankly, I hadn’t thought about this.” Watch it:
When Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, he claimed that there is “no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.” Today, Sherman asked Gonzales, “Wouldn’t it be your duty as Attorney General to make sure that their [U.S. citizens’] rights to habeas corpus were honored?” After some hedging, Gonzales finally agreed: “Yes.”
SHERMAN: The administration has put forward various theories under which anyone, even American citizens, could be arrested without being charged with a crime. One of these is the theory that you could be classified as an enemy combatant. Are there any American citizens being held today, for over a month, who have been denied habeas corpus or access to an attorney?
GONZALES: I don’t believe so, Congressman.
SHERMAN: Wouldn’t it be your duty as Attorney General to make sure that their rights to habeas corpus were honored?
GONZALES: Well, you know, there’s a lot of people in this government and sometimes people do things that they shouldn’t be —
And I’m not suggesting that’s occurring here. But you’re asking me a question I hadn’t really thought about.
SHERMAN: Is there any agency answerable to the Department of Justice —
GONZALES: We’re all answerable to — put the Constitution into our laws, yes.
SHERMAN: Now, are there any U.S. citizens being held now by foreign governments or foreign organizations, without access to attorneys, as a result of rendition, where agents of the administration have taken people into custody and then given them up to foreign officials?
GONZALES: I don’t — Congressman, I don’t know if I have the question to that question either. It’s something I would have to look at.
SHERMAN: Wouldn’t you, as the chief officer responsible for protecting our civil rights, want to know?
GONZALES: Yes. And I’m not suggesting that that is occurring — It’s just — quite frankly, I hadn’t thought about this.
SHERMAN: Would you respond for the record?
GONZALES: I’d be happy. If I can respond to the question, I will.
SHERMAN: Let me move on to another question. You now have focused more on these —
GONZALES: I don’t want the press to run out and say, “Oh my gosh, U.S. citizens are being held by the government secretly, other governments.” I don’t think that’s the case. I just want the American public to understand that.
SHERMAN: I look forward to a definitive answer for the record. Let’s move on.