By: Matt McQuinn
POL 201 American National Government
Instructor: Paul Edleman
The habeas corpus concept was first expressed in the Magna Charta, a constitutional document forced on King John by English landowners at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. Among the liberties declared in the Magna Charta was that "No free man shall be seized, or imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or exiled, or injured in any way, nor will we enter on him or send against him except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land" (Magna Carta, 1215). Several debates have risen due to: the war on terrors approach to the treatment of the combatants and judicial review based off of intense emotions.
Habeas corpus is a writ that is used to bring a party who has been criminally convicted in state court into federal court (http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/habeas_corpus). Usually, writs of habeas corpus are used to review the legality of the party’s arrest, imprisonment, or detention. The federal court’s review of a habeas corpus petition is considered to be collateral relief of a state court decision rather than direct review. Habeas corpus originated in English common law as a means to protect individuals from illegal detention. An individual who had been held in custody could file a petition seeking a writ which would require the custodian to provide adequate legal justification for the detention. If the custodian failed to do so, the court could order the petitioner’s release.
Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states, "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." Under this provision, persons detained by the government are entitled to a judicial hearing to determine if there is any legal basis for their detention (www.archives.gov). The Constitution allows for the suspension of the writ only in times of invasion or rebellion, and "we are suffering neither of those alternatives at the present time ( LA Times, Dec 2006: A.20). " Habeas protection for enemy combatants -- not just those at Guantanamo but other aliens who might be detained in the future -- is not just a legal nicety. Without such protection, real injustices could be suffered by flesh-and-blood individuals. Shortly after the Afghanistan invasion of 2001, the Bush administration developed a plan for imprisoning these enemy combatants, and interrogating them outside of U.S. jurisdiction. A U.S. naval base, leased from the Cuban Government, held these detainees for interrogational purposes. Since then, several hundred men have been held at GITMO, most have been released and others are stuck there due to funding being cut off for transportation of prisoners from GITMO to other facilities. “The Boumediene vs Bush case was a monumental decision, along with many more dimensions. The Supreme Court, for the first time in its history, invalidated a federal statute that purported to restrict the jurisdiction of the federal courts. In so ruling, the Supreme Court, also for the first time, clearly held, as distinguished from strongly suggesting, that the Constitution's Suspension Clause, despite its indirect wording, affirmatively guarantees access to the courts to seek the writ of habeas corpus (or an adequate substitute) in order to test the legality of executive detention,” (Meltzer, 2008).
Since April 2000, the Supreme Court has handed out six rulings clarifying the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's (AEDPA) new habeas corpus provisions, and those decisions reflect the Court's apparent desire to affect Congress's intent; restricting the availability of habeas corpus while still allowing federal courts to provide relief for diligent habeas petitioners who have been unjustly incarcerated. But the attempt of the Court’s, to clarify the AEDPA, seems only to have led to more complicated habeas legislation.
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