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US passes bill removing rights of some prisoners

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Section: International News Geography: USA

October 4, 2006

US passes bill removing rights of some prisoners

by Francesca Manning

On September 29, the United States Senate followed the House of Representatives in passing a bill that removes a startling amount of the legal checks and balances that limit the power of the president. Particularly arresting is the fact that the bill overturns the habeas corpus laws as applied to any non-US citizen prosecuted by the military.

Habeas Corpus petitions are filed by prisoners in order to question the validity of their incarceration. Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the one-third of US senators to oppose the change, described the disturbing effects of the bill on Democracy Now:

"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…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…'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."

Before the bill was passed, the president already had the legal power to suspend these rights during invasion or emergency. Since September 11, 2001, the President has used the "state of emergency" and the Patriot Act to justify and allow detainment and warrantless surveillance of many citizens and non-citizens alike.

Supporters of the change claim that habeas corpus had to go because it "afforded rights to terrorists." Conservative Senator Jeff Sessions remarked that he did not think the habeas corpus was ever intended for non-citizens in the first place.

Besides abolishing the right to contest one's own arrest and detainment, the changes made on September 29 make it legal to use coerced testimony as concrete evidence, as well as hearsay, if it is deemed reliable by a judge, reports the Associated Press

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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