The military tribunals bill signed yesterday by President Bush marks the first time the right of habeas corpus has been curtailed by law for millions of people in the U.S., reports the Los Angeles Times. Debate focused on trials at Guantanamo Bay, but the new law also takes away from noncitizens in the U.S. – including more than 12 million permanent residents – the right to go to court if they are declared “unlawful enemy combatants.” Before yesterday, the principle of habeas corpus meant that anyone in jail in the U.S. had a right to ask a judge for a hearing. They also had a right to go free if the government could not show a legal basis for holding them. Legal scholars predict the law’s partial repeal of habeas corpus will be struck down as unconstitutional.
The new law closes the courthouse door to noncitizens who are arrested in the U.S. and held by the military as a possible “unlawful enemy combatant.” The statute defines this term broadly to include not just terrorists and fighters, but also people who have “materially supported hostilities against the United States.” Said Duke University law Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky, a critic of the Bush administration: “The question is whether this is an unconstitutional suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”