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First Monday: Civil Liberties, Guantanamo, And Where We Go From Here

[Thanks for joining us for another edition of First Monday, presented in conjunction with the Alliance for Justice.  Please welcome Vince Warren, the Executive Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights.   Please also welcome Steven Watt of the ACLU.  As always with guests, please stay on-topic and be polite — any off-topic discussions should be taken to the prior thread. Thanks! — CHS]

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Michael Mukasey tried to tempt Congress into blocking justice for the men in Guantanamo yet again.  Enough already. The Supreme Court has chastised Congress on it’s several eleventh-hour attempts to deny the men access to federal courts by passing the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA) and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA).

This June, the Court called “strike three” on these unlawful policies by upholding the detainees’ right to have access to federal courts for a third time – in Rasul v. Bush in 2004, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006, and Boumediene v. Bush in 2008.  Congress should be a part of the solution this time by simply letting the courts do their job. 

The stripping of habeas corpus and the accompanying legal contortions of the past six years are emblematic of this administration’s contempt for the law.

The Boumediene case was an historic victory and gives some hope that we can still count on the courts to protect the most fundamental of our rights, at least when it involves another branch stepping on judicial toes. The Center for Constitutional Rights has led the legal battle for the hundreds of detainees held at Guantanamo, neck and neck with the Bush administration’s attempts to justify unjust detention. We sent the first habeas attorney to the base and the first attorney to meet with a former CIA “ghost detainee” there. That we might have to go another round, and watch the men at Guantanamo languish another two years, is unthinkable.

We have arrived at a critical point in American history and in the evolution of how our leaders interpret, manipulate, and even ignore our laws. Over the last six years, the Bush administration has systematically dismantled some of the most important rights and protections in the United States Constitution.

Bush was able to sign away our constitutional and human rights during his time in the Oval Office, often with only the stroke of a pen—in a signing statement, an executive order or pursuant to a dubious legal memo. It’s imperative that we all let the next president know we are watching closely and expect him to restore the Constitution and make it a priority in his first 100 days in office.

We’ve started a 100 Days campaign that will provide a detailed blueprint of policy prescriptions for the next president to put the Constitution back together again. We are trying to ensure that power actually gives up power in the face of public pressure and scrutiny.

But the other issue we must address is accountability for the crimes this administration has committed.

This fall, in addition to the 100 Days campaign, we’ll be releasing our book, The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld, which lays out the torture case against the former Defense Secretary as well as Gonzales, Tenet, Yoo, Bybee and others guilty of war crimes.  We’ve filed cases in Germany and France under universal jurisdiction laws, and continue to pursue accountability. But we’ll need the support and the pressure of the public to make it all work.

The Alliance for Justice has put together a fact sheet on the Mukasey response to Boumediene and habeas, as well as an action request for you to contact your representatives and tell them to just say no. We all need to stand up for habeas — be the change you wish to see.  — CHS

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Vince Warren

Vince Warren