to Amy Goodman
In this case, the particular section I was speaking about at that point was the so-called habeas protection. Now, habeas corpus was first brought in the Magna Carta in the 1200s. It’s been a tenet of our rights as Americans. And what they're saying is that if you’re an alien, even if you’re in the United States legally, a legal alien, may have been here ten years, fifteen years, twenty years legally, if a determination is made by anybody in the executive that you may be a threat, they can hold you indefinitely, they could put you in Guantanamo, not bring any charges, not allow you to have a lawyer, not allow you to ever question what they’ve done, even in cases, as they now acknowledge, where they have large numbers of people in Guantanamo who are there by mistake, that they put you -- say you’re a college professor who has written on Islam or for whatever reason, and they lock you up. You’re not even allowed to question it. You’re not allowed to have a lawyer, not allowed to say, “Wait a minute, you’ve got the wrong person. Or you’ve got -- the one you’re looking for, their name is spelled similar to mine, but it’s not me.” It makes no difference. You have no recourse whatsoever.
This goes so much against everything we've ever done. Now, we’ve had some on the other side say, ‘Well, they're trying to give rights to terrorists.’ No, we’re just saying that the United States will follow the rules it has before and will protect rights of people. We’re not giving any new rights. We’re just saying that if, for example, if you picked up the wrong person, you at least have a chance to get somebody independent to make that judgment.
On the irony of American history:
You know, when things like this were done during the Cold War in some of the Iron Curtain countries, I remember all the speeches on the Senate floor, Democrats and Republicans alike saying, “How horrible this is! Thank God we don’t do things like this in America.” I wish they’d go back and listen to some of their speeches at that time.
On the paranoid madness of King George and Dick Cheney, and why this vote was so important:
AMY GOODMAN: Was President Bush on Capitol Hill yesterday?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, yes, indeed. You can always tell, because virtually the whole city comes to a screeching halt with the motorcades, although it’s sort of like that when Dick Cheney comes up to give orders to the Republican Caucus. He comes up with a 15 to 25 vehicle caravan. It’s amazing to watch.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was Bush doing yesterday on Capitol Hill?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, he was just telling them they had to vote this way. They had to vote. They couldn’t hand him a defeat. They had to go with him They had to trust him. It’ll get us past the election. We had offered a -- you know, five years ago, I and others had suggested there is a way to have military tribunals for the detainees, where it would meet all our standards and basic international standards. They rejected that. And now, five weeks before the elections, they say, ‘Oh, yes, we need something like that.’ No, basically what he was saying to them, don’t ask questions, get us past the elections, because if you ask questions, the answers are going to be embarrassing, and it could hurt you in the elections.
On why it's important to be able to "bring the body":
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think Senator Leahy really got it right. I mean, what this bill authorizes is really the authority of an authoritarian despot to the president. I mean, what it gives him is the power, as the senator said, to detain any person anywhere in the world, citizen or non-citizen, whether living in the United States or anywhere else. I mean, what kind of authority is that? No checks and balances. Nothing. Now, if you’re a citizen, you still get your right of habeas corpus. If you’re a non-citizen, as the senator pointed out, you’re completely finished. Picked up, legal permanent resident in the United States, detained forever, no writ of habeas corpus.
It was incredibly shocking. I watched that vote yesterday. I had been in Washington for two or three days trying to line up the votes for Senator Leahy’s amendment that would have restored habeas. We thought we had them. We lost at 51 to 48. I have to tell you, Amy, I just -- I basically broke down at that point. I had been working like a dog on this thing. And there I saw the President come to Capitol Hill and persuade two or three or four of the Republicans who we thought we had to vote to strip habeas corpus from this legislation. It was a shock. I mean, an utter shock.
So you have this ability to detain anyone anywhere in the world. You deny them the writ of habeas corpus. And when they're in detention, you have a right to do all kinds of coercive techniques on them: hooding, stripping, anything really the president says goes, short of what he defines as torture. And then, if you are lucky enough to be tried, and I say “lucky enough,” because, for example, the 460 people the Center represents at Guantanamo may never get trials. In fact, only ten have even been charged. Those people, they’ve been stripped of their right to go to court and test their detention by habeas corpus. They’re just -- they’ve been there five years. Right now, under this legislation, they could be there forever.
Let me tell you, this bill will be struck down and struck down badly. But meanwhile, for two more years or whatever it’s going to take us to litigate it, we’re going to be litigating what was a basic right, as the senator said, since the Magna Carta of 1215, the right of any human being to test their detention in court. It’s one of the saddest days I’ve seen. You’ve called it “groundbreaking,” Amy. It’s really Constitution-breaking. It’s Constitution-shattering. It shatters really basic rights that we've had for a very long time.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, how long have you been a senator?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I’ve been there 32 years. I have to absolutely agree with what I just heard. I mean, this is -- it’s Kafka. But it’s more than that. It’s just a total rollback of everything this country has stood for. I mean, you have 100 people, very privileged, members of the Senate voting this way and with no realization of what it would be like if you were the one who was picked up. Maybe you’re guilty, but quite often, as we’ve seen, purely by accident and then held for years.
You know, I was a prosecutor for eight years. I prosecuted an awful lot of people, sent a lot of people to prison. But I did it arguing that everybody's rights had to be protected, because mistakes are often made. You want to make sure that if you’re prosecuting somebody, you’re prosecuting the right person. Here, they don't care whether mistakes are made or not.
And you have to stand up. I mean, it was a Vermonter -- you go way back in history -- it was a Vermonter who stood up against the Alien and Sedition Act, Matthew Lyon. He was prosecuted on that, put in jail, as a congressman, put in jail. And Vermont showed what they thought of these unconstitutional laws. We in Vermont reelected him, and eventually the laws fell down. There was another Vermonter, Ralph Flanders, who stood up to Joseph McCarthy and his reign of fear and stopped that. I mean, you have to stand. What has happened, here we are, a great powerful good nation, and we’re running scared. We’re willing to set aside all our values and running scared. What an example that is to the rest of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: You gave a very graphic example. You said, “Imagine you’re a law-abiding lawful permanent resident. In your spare time you do charitable fundraising for international relief agencies that lend a hand in disasters.” Take that story from there, the example you used.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: You send money. You don’t care which particular religious group or civic group it is. They’re doing humanitarian work. You send the money. It turns out that one of them is giving money to various Islamic causes that the United States is concerned about. They come to your house. Maybe somebody has called into one of these anonymous tipster lines, saying, “You know, this Amy Goodman. I’m somewhat worried about her, simply because she’s going -- and I think I’ve seen some Muslim-looking people coming to her house.” They come in there, and they say, “We want to talk to you.” They bring you downtown. You’re a legal alien, legal resident here. And you say, “Well, look, I’ve got my rights. I’d like to talk to a lawyer.” They say, “No, no. You don’t have any rights.” “Well, then I’m not going to talk to you.” “Well, then now we’re twice as concerned about you. We’re going to spirit you down to Guantanamo, and we’ll get back to in a few years.” And, I mean, that could actually happen under this. And these are not far-fetched ideas, as the professor knows. He’s seen similar things.
And with that, and I would love to continue this conversation, unfortunately I’ve got to go back to my day job, back to the judiciary. I think this is going to go down as one of those black marks in the Congress. You know, I wasn’t there at the time, but virtually everybody voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution. When I came to the Senate, you couldn’t find anybody there who thought that was a good idea. They knew it was a terrible mistake. You had members of congress supported the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II. Everybody knows that was a terrible mistake now. That day will come when everybody will look at this and say, “What were we thinking?”
Like the man said: You have to stand up.
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