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The death of habeas corpus

The president has now succeeded where no one has before.  He’s managed to kill the writ of habeas corpus.  Tonight, a special investigation, how that, in turn, kills nothing less than your Bill of Rights.
/ Source: Countdown

On “Countdown” Keith Olbermann examined the Military Commission’s Act of 2006 and what it does to something called habeas corpus. 

The following is a transcript of Keith Olbermann's special report on habeas corpus, as reported on Tuesday, October 10th:

The president has now succeeded where no one has before.  He’s managed to kill the writ of habeas corpus.  Tonight, a special investigation, how that, in turn, kills nothing less than your Bill of Rights. Because the Mark Foley story began to break on the night of September 28, exploding the following day, many people may not have noticed the bill passed by the Senate that night. 

Congress passed the Military Commission’s Act to give Mr. Bush the power to deal effectively with America’s enemies—those who seek to harm the country.  He has been very clear on who he thinks that is. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America. 

That fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy. 


OLBERMANN:  So, the president said it was urgent that Congress send him this bill as quickly as possible, not for the politics of next month’s elections, but for America. 


BUSH:  The need for this legislation is urgent.  We need to insure that those questioning terrorists can continue to do everything within the limits of the law to get information that can save American lives.  My administration will continue to work with the Congress to get this legislation enacted, but time is of the essence.  Congress is in session just for a few more weeks and passing this legislation ought to be the top priority. 

The families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice.  Some of the families of with us today, they should have to wait no longer. 


OLBERMANN:  Because time was of the essence and to insure that the 9/11 families would wait no longer, as soon as he got the bill, the president whipped out his pen and immediately signed a statement saying he looks forward to signing the actual law eventually. 

He has not signed it yet, almost two weeks later because, of course, he has been swamped by a series of campaign swings at which he has made up quotes from unnamed Democratic leaders and because when he is actually at work he’s been signing so many other important bills, such as the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act, the Third Higher Education Extension Act, ratification requests for extradition treaties with Malta, Estonia, and Latvia; his proclamation of German-American Day, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act; and his proclamation of Leif Erickson Day. 

Still, getting the Military Commission’s Act to the president so he could immediately mull it over for two weeks was so important, some members of Congress did not even read the bill before voting on it.  Thus, as some of its minutia escaped scrutiny. 

One bit of trivia that caught our eye was the elimination of habeas corpus, which apparently use to be the right of anyone who’s tossed in prison to appear in court and say “Hey, why am I in prison?” 

OLBERMANN: Why does habeas corpus hate America?  And how is it so bad for us?  Mr. Bush says it gets in the way of him doing his job. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) Olbermann makes comments between clips of speeches by different politicians below.

BUSH:  This legislation passed in the House yesterday is a part of making sure that we do have the capacity to protect you.  Our most solemn job is the security of this country. 

OLBERMANN:  It may be solemn. 

BUSH:  Bush, so solemnly swear.

OLBERMANN:  But is that really his job?  In this rarely seen footage, Mr. Bush seems to be describing a different job. 

BUSH:  And will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN has obtained a copy of this “Constitution” of the United States, and sources tell us it was originally sneaked through the constitutional convention and state ratification in order to establish America’s fundamental legal principles.

But this so-called “Constitution” is frustratingly vague about the right to trial.  In fact, there’s only one reference to habeas corpus at all, quoting:  “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” 

But even Democrats, who voted against the Military Commission’s Act, concede that it doesn’t actually suspend habeas corpus.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  The bill before us would not merely suspend the great writ—the great writ—the writ of habeas corpus, it just eliminates it permanently. 

OLBERMANN:  And there is considerable debate whether the conditions for suspending habeas corpus, rebellion or invasion, have even been met. 

LEAHY:  Conditions for suspending habeas corpus have not been met. 

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  We do not have a rebellion or an invasion. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, we’re not in a rebellion nor are we being invaded. 

OLBERMANN:  OK, maybe the debate wasn’t that considerable.  Nevertheless, COUNTDOWN has learned that habeas corpus actually predates the Constitution, meaning it’s not just pre-September 11 thinking, it’s also July 4 thinking. 

In this those days, no one could have imagined that enemy combatants might one day attack Americans on native soil.  In fact, COUNTDOWN has obtained a partially redacted copy of a colonial “declaration,” indicating that back then, depriving us of trial by jury was actually considered sufficient cause to start a war of independence based on the, then fashionable idea that “liberty” was an inalienable right. 

But today, thanks to modern post-9/11 thinking, those rights are now fully alienable—for your protection. 


OLBERMANN:  The reality is without habeas corpus, a lot of other rights lose their meaning.  But if you look at the actual Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments of that pesky Constitution, you’ll see just how many remain for your protection. 

OK, No. 1 is gone.  I mean, if you’re detained without trial, you lose your freedom of religion and speech, press, assembly, all the rest of that.  So, you don’t need that any more. 

And you know, you can’t petition the government for anything. 

No. 2, While you are in prison, your right to keep and bear arms just might be infringed upon even if you’re in the NRA, so that’s gone. 

Three, well OK, no forced sleepovers at your house by soldiers. 

Three’s all right.

Four, you’re definitely not secure against searches and seizures, as it says here, with or without probable cause.  And, in prison that’s not limited to just the guards, so forget the fourth. 

Five, grand juries and due process, obviously out, so forget five and the little trailer up here. 

Six, well trials are gone too, let alone the right to counsel.  Speedy trials?  You want it when? 

Seven, well this is about—I thought we just covered trials and juries earlier so forget the seventh. 

Eight, well, bail’s kind of a moot point isn’t it? 

And nine, other rights retained by the people.  Well, you know, if you can name them during your water boarding, we’ll consider them. 

Ten, powers not delegated to the United States federal government.  Well, they seem to have ended up there anyway.  So as you can see, even without habeas corpus, at least one tenth of the Bill of Rights, I guess that’s the Bill of Right, now—remains virtually intact.  No. 3 is still safe. 

We can rest easy knowing that we will never, ever have to quarter soldiers in our homes as long as the third amendment still stands strong. 

The president can just take care of that with a signing statement.