Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What Lies Beneath

From a recent speech by Vermont's own Senator Patrick Leahy:

"What has changed in the past five years that justifies not merely suspending, but abolishing the writ of habeas corpus for a broad category of people who have not been found guilty or even charged with any crime? What has changed in the last five years that our Government is so inept and our people so terrified that we must do what no bomb or attack could ever do by taking away the very freedoms that define America? Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed? What has happened that the Senate is willing to turn America from a bastion of freedom into a caldron of suspicion ruled by a Government of unchecked power?

Under the Constitution, a suspension of the writ may only be justified during an invasion or a rebellion, when the public safety demands it. Six weeks after the deadliest attack on American soil in our history, the Congress that passed the PATRIOT Act rightly concluded that a suspension of the writ would not be justified. Yet now, six weeks before a mid-term election, the Bush-Cheney Administration and its supplicants here in Congress deem a complete abolition of the writ the highest priority – a priority so urgent that we are allowed no time to properly review, debate and amend a bill we first saw in its current form less that 72 hours ago. Notwithstanding the harm the Administration has done to national security with its mismanaged misadventure in Iraq, there is no new national security crisis. There is only a Republican political crisis. And that, as we all know, is why this un-American, unconstitutional legislation is before us today.

We have a profoundly important and dangerous choice to make today. The danger is not that we adopt a “pre-9/11 mentality.” We adopted a post-9/11 mentality in the PATRIOT Act when we declined to suspend the writ, and we can do so again today. The danger, as Senator Feingold has stated in a different context, is that we adopt a pre-1776 mentality: one that dismisses the Constitution on which our American freedoms are founded. Actually, it is worse than that. Habeas corpus was the most basic protection of freedom that Englishmen secured from their King in the Magna Carta. The mentality adopted by this bill, in abolishing habeas corpus for a broad swath of people, is a pre-1215 mentality.

Every one of us has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. In order to uphold that oath, I believe we have a duty to vote for this amendment and against this irresponsible and flagrantly unconstitutional bill. That is what I shall do, and I urge all Senators on both sides of the aisle to join me."