Mr. Leahy situates the importance of this legislation within the context of protecting the balance of power between the branches of government, and combating the expansion of executive power in the Bush administration.
We have an administration that at every opportunity has aggressively sought unchecked executive power, while working to erode or eliminate constitutionally enshrined checks on that power by the courts and by Congress. Stripping away habeas rightsis just the latest brazen attempt in a six-year-long effort to consolidate power in the Executive Branch. Congress has too often been complicit in this effort, and I hope we will begin to reverse this trend now.
As Senator Leahy acknowledges, habeas corpus does not grant detainees the right to a trial, or the right to appear personally in court. The habeas writ simply establishes that a person may petition to an independent judge for relief from unlawful or erroneous detention.
Mr. Leahy challenges the integrity of many decisions to label prisoners as, illegal enemy combatants, and claims that many current prisoners are being held in error. If the detainees held at Guantanamo truly are the worst of the worst of our enemies, surely it will be easy for the government to make a baseline showing in court that they are lawfully detained Habeas simply provides an opportunity for a detainee to argue to an independent federal judge that he or she is being held in error. If the detainee is properly held, this is a claim the government can easily overcome.
The most daunting challenge in the age of terrorism, Leahy concluded in his statements to the Senate floor on September 19, is to strike the proper balance between maintaining our national security against very real threats and preserving the civil liberties that are the proudest legacy of our Founders. More than ever, in the wake of September 11th, we must remain vigilant against security threats, but we must never forget that our values are the foundation that makes our nation strong.
Complete transcripts of Senator Leahys statements on the Senate floor can be watched, heard and read on his website: