Editor’s note: This was written before Congress voted to give the president what he wanted.

President Bush wants Congress to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus for Guantanamo prisoners. Congress should refuse. The Writ is a bulwark of liberty because it allows persons wrongfully imprisoned to protest their innocence before a neutral judge.

Suspension of the Writ would affect not only the handful of prisoners whom the Bush administration plans to charge with war crimes, but also about 300 prisoners who have never been charged with anything even though they have been imprisoned for four or five years. Many assert they were wrongfully seized during the fog of war. Over 90 percent were seized by the Northern Alliance, Pakistani intelligence, or Afghan warlords. Some were sold to the U.S. for bounty (Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power, by Joseph Margulies, 2006, page 168).

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), established by the Bush Administration purportedly to determine whether the Guantanamo prisoners are, in fact, “enemy combatants” don’t provide for fair hearings. They allow secret evidence, and coerced testimony. The accused may be excluded from parts of the hearing and the decision whether to exclude can be based on secret evidence. The members and presiding officer of each panel are military personnel appointed by the Secretary of Defense (or his designee), who has already prejudged the outcome by calling the prisoners the worst of the worst of the enemy combatants.

As a result, the Writ of Habeas Corpus is the only way for Guantanamo prisoners not charged with war crimes to have fair hearings before a neutral judge where they may assert that they have been unjustly imprisoned.

Gordon Waldron
Oak Park

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