Friday, May 26, 2006

bodies, part deux

Habeas corpus.

I'm sure you've heard this before. It gets thrown around alot on TV series about attorneys. It is latin for "you have the body."

No, it is not about murder cases. It is about any case. It refers to the body of the person charged with the crime and the fact that that person must be brought to a court so that, as LectLaw explains it, "it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully."

This is something we generally take for granted. They can't lock us up for any significant period of time - I think 24 hours, max - without charging us with a crime and then they have to be able to prove to an independent party, not that we necessarily committed the crime, but at least that it is reasonable to suspect that we committed a crime.

LectLaw goes on to say that, in a case called Brown versus Vasquez, the Supreme Court "recognized the fact that`[t]he writ of habeas corpus is the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.'

Why? How? How does it work that this little phrase - habeas corpus - is the most important way to safeguard us from arbitrary action by the government? Consider some actions of past and present dictators:

* In Chile and Argentina, opponents of the dictators there were "dissappeared" by the thousands.

* Immediately after the Vietnam War, enemies of the Vietnamese government were sent to re-education camps. No trial to speak of. Just "We've had enough of you, pesky disenter. Off you go! Dissent no more!!"

* In Iran, very recently, Ramin Jahanbegloo, a respected intellectual, was "detained" on his way out of the country to attend a conference. He's been "detained" for a month now without being charged.

So you're probably thinking ... that couldn't happen here. Right? Is that what you're thinking?

You're wrong, friend. It is already happening here. Guantanamo Bay, warrantless wiretaps, reviewing our phone records. All of these things disregard the protection afforded us by Habeas corpus.

Now, maybe you're thinking, the people affected by those things are terrorists. What do I care about them? If I'm not doing anything wrong, why do I have to worry about it?


Anonymous Mark said...

I don't see the comparison of dissent in South America, VietNam, and enemy combatants @ Gitmo, wiretaps of international calls to suspected terrorists, and databases of our phone records (admittedly, this last point bothers me. I'm more libertarian on this issue.).

I guess you're implying that it's a slippery slope, but to me that sidewalk's still pretty dry.

10:15 AM

Blogger karen said...

Ages ago in my 9th grad civics class we learned that habeas corpus meant "bring the body", a slightly less literal translation from the Latin. I think the intent is important though, as you're arguing - it's not important that the government merely have the body of the accused in their possession so to speak, but that they make that body present in the courts when that person is being accused/defended/tried/etc.

6:08 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with mark to the extent that one would have to be pretty hyperbolic to compare south and central american governmental repression, death squads and disappearances with the current american administration. i don't believe that's our case, or that that's where we're going, but neither do i believe there's no moisture on the sidewalk (if i can torture, or at least detain, that metaphor a bit longer).

the people who ended up in Guantanamo in september, 2001, weren't taken into custody with warrents, nor were they given any legal recourse, told what they were accused of,nor were their next of kin, family, employers, etc notified. they were just picked up and taken, and some of them turned out to be american citizens.
i mean, what the fuck is that?

what about the people we have in these alleged "black site" prisons? let's assume we all agree that when it comes to our conduct in other countries, we agree to play by different rules. even if we allow that we're going to occasionally hold someone without charges or trial, there's no mechanism in place to ensure that we're not (intentionally or inadvertantly) holding an american, or that this person is actually a terrrist and not a dissenter (some of the official rhetoric in previous years refused to acknowledge a distinction). or that our detainees aren't being tortured, or deprived of light and sleep, summarily executed, addcited against their wills to heroin, or whatever, as part of their "interrogation"?
i don't think it would be unreasonable for the government to try and sell us on the importance of suspending habeau corpus for, say Khalid Sheikh Mohammid (who we apparently do have in custody, somewhere in the world, even though we won't tell anybody), while assuring us it remains in tact for everyone else. this administration, though, is behaving (or at least has been) as though everyone in guantanamo is Khalid Sheikh Mohammid. i think that counts as moisture (or at least something stronger than a heavy humidity).

anyway, it's a lot of authority the president has given himself, particularly since his only other experience as a government's chief executive is in Texas, where the governor has very little actual power. at least the congress notices once their computers and files start getting raided during the night (under the guise of a corruption investigation-- if nixon were alive he'd be wishing he'd thought of that).


10:21 AM

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