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Human Rights Watch Urges Support for the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act and the Restoring the Constitution Act

Letter to Representative Jerrold Nadler

Rep. Nadler submitted two important pieces of legislation today—the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 and the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007—which would together undo the worst aspects of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and help restore the United States’s reputation as a leading proponent of human rights and the rule of law.

As you are well aware, the Military Commissions Act was rushed through Congress in the last session of 2006 with inadequate or no hearings on many of its key provisions. Of primary concern, the act bars detainees in military custody from challenging the legality of their detention through the writ of habeas corpus, an age-old right that dates back to 13th century England and establishes the principle that even kings are bound by the rule of law.

Both the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act and the Restoring the Constitution Act reinstate this ancient right, making sure that the president cannot simply place any non-citizen in military custody on his say-so, without any independent review of the decision to detain. We now know that detainees in Guantanamo Bay were arrested from 14 countries around the world, often sold to the United States by bounty hunters. In many instances, suspects were essentially indistinguishable from other civilians, making the possibility of mistake high. In such a situation, it is critical, if not incumbent, on the United States to ensure there is an independent and credible review of the decision to detain. The legislation introduced today would do just that.

The Restoring the Constitution Act would also undo other troubling provisions of the Military Commissions Act. Among these important corrections are the adoption of a sensible definition of combatant and a prohibition on the use of any evidence obtained through coercion. Also, both pieces of legislation restore the ability of litigants to raise violations of US international obligations under the Geneva Conventions in a court of law.

We urge the House of Representatives to act quickly to enact both the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act and the Restoring the Constitution Act—legislation that would go a long way toward restoring the moral authority and credibility of the United States around the world.

Thank you again for your leadership on this issue.


Jennifer Daskal
Advocacy Director, US Program

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