Last month, the House Armed Services Committee “dealt a blow to the human-rights community” by failing to include a provision restoring habeas corpus rights in the 2008 defense authorization bill. At the time, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the House would address habeas reform in a stand-alone bill.
Today, House chairmen Ike Skelton (D-MS) of the Armed Services Committee and John Conyers (D-MI) of the Judiciary Committee announced legislation that would finally restore habeas corpus rights to U.S. detainees being imprisoned indefinitely without trial. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed habeas legislation earlier this month.
In a statement, Skelton said the legislation takes aim at the “seriously flawed” provision in the Military Commissions Act that stripped detainees of their habeas rights. The support of Skelton, considered a leading moderate in the House, suggests the bill will have broad-based support. Conyers added:
Habeas Corpus is one of the fundamental touchstones of our constitutional democracy. We cannot preach freedom abroad if we are not willing to give prisoners the ability to establish their innocence; and, we cannot advance the cause of fighting terrorism at home if our government takes constitutionally dubious short cuts.
The announcement from Skelton and Conyers comes just days after the D.C. Circuit Court ended two months of delay and put into effect its decision that Guantanamo Bay detainees “have lost all rights to pursue habeas challenges to their prolonged imprisonment.”
Read the full Skelton/Conyers statement:
SKELTON/CONYERS Introduce Habeas Reform Legislation
Washington, DC — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation today which would uphold the principle of habeas corpus by amending existing law to allow individuals detained, often for many years without formal charges, to have their day in court.
“Last year when Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, I argued that the bill was seriously flawed by provisions which unconstitutionally stripped the federal courts of jurisdiction over habeas cases,” Skelton said. “Today, Chairman Conyers and I have introduced legislation to undo this mistake, and I am pleased to be joined by so many other members in advancing this important change.”
“Habeas Corpus is one of the fundamental touchstones of our constitutional democracy,” Conyers said. “We cannot preach freedom abroad if we are not willing to give prisoners the ability to establish their innocence; and, we cannot advance the cause of fighting terrorism at home if our government takes constitutionally dubious short cuts.”
“The last thing that we want is to convict an individual for terrorism and then have that conviction overturned because of fatal flaws in the Military Commissions law passed in the previous Congress. Military judges have already dismissed charges against two suspected terrorists because of deficiencies in the legal framework hurriedly adopted last year. Amending the habeas provisions of the Military Commissions Act will significantly improve this law and help us stay true to our nation’s values,” said Skelton.
H.R.2826 accomplishes two main goals. It upholds the principle of habeas corpus as applied to detainees, allowing them to challenge their indefinite detention without trial. Detainees who are being detained in active combat zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, will continue to not be allowed to file habeas petitions. The bill also permits habeas courts to review the actions of a Military Commission established under the Military Commissions Act.