The Consequences of the Military Commission Act

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights in The Nation:

Twice in the past five years the Supreme Court has insisted that habeas corpus applies to these prisoners and ruled that the Bush Administration must apply the law. Yet last week Congress buckled in the face of election-year rhetoric about “terrorism” from the White House and passed new legislation denying our clients the right to challenge their detentions, or even to see the evidence against them. While I’m convinced that this law will not stand in court, we are still facing at least a year of challenges before it is declared unconstitutional.

ut it is not only our clients who are in jeopardy under this new legislation. Americans need to remember the sweeps and mass detentions after September 11, 2001, when thousands of noncitizens were rounded up and treated as terrorists–which none of them turned out to be. Habeas corpus was their remedy; they could go to court and force the Administration to justify their detentions. Now noncitizens can be rounded up, detained forever and never get their case into a court.

And yet, even more sadly, the tossing aside of habeas corpus was only one of the draconian features of the Military Commission Act.

Another nasty piece of the legislation authorizes the President, on his own authority, to detain anyone, citizen or noncitizen, anywhere in the world, whom he deems to be an “unlawful enemy combatant.” The definition of that term is broadly worded and would allow the President to imprison almost anyone.

If you are unlucky enough to be a noncitizen and the President detains you as an unlawful enemy combatant, you can never test the legality of your detention in court because habeas corpus has been abolished. You are there forever… or until the President changes his mind. If you are lucky enough to be a citizen, your habeas rights will not get you out quickly: The President can now detain any citizen he chooses, without charges, simply by declaring that the prisoner is an enemy combatant.