Habeas corpus: Latin for show me the body. It’s the Constitutional right to have a court date, to due process of law.
On October 17, President George Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law. The law strips habeas corpus from those deemed enemy combatants, and it is unclear whether or not this extends to US citizens.
Rob Hitt believes the effects of the Military Commissions Act have not sunk in to the American people. Hitt is the co-president of the Western branch of American Civil Liberties Union, and a senior and creative writing major.
“If, for example, I were arrested and accused of being a terrorist and enemy combatant,” said Hitt, “if I was shipped off somewhere, once the accusation had been made, then without habeas corpus I have no avenue to prove my own freedom.”
“I won’t get a court date, I won’t get a lawyer, and even though I’m an American citizen and have not engaged in terrorism, I will not have any way to prove myself,” he said.
Without habeas corpus, “it makes indefinite detention possible, like in Guantanamo,” said Hitt. “People that are arrested and are not granted POW status, and are categorized as enemy combatants, can be held indefinitely without access to a lawyer, without any sort of due process.”
“In the name of keeping the country safe, and fighting terrorism, and we start to give up more constitutional rights, and that is what is more damaging to America than any terrorist attack will ever be,” said Hitt.
This Wednesday, the ACLU will show the docudrama film, The Road to Guantánamo, at 7 p.m. in Arntzen 100.
The film recounts the true story of three British citizens who were held for over two years at Guantánamo Bay detainment camp, part of the United States Navy base in Cuba. According to Hudson, the men were detained by the CIA while on their way to a wedding in the Middle East.
“They were held there for two years, and never had any charges against them,” said Alex Hudson, a senior and political science major. Along with Hitt, Hudson is the co-president of the ACLU.
“The only reason that these people instead of other people at Guantánamo were released is because they are British citizens,” she said, “and even then it took two years. So the people who are being held there now who don’t have that power behind them are still there. Cut and dry.”
Hudson says that The Road to Guantánamo shows the inhumanity the US government is capable of carrying out.
“I think it’s time that people wake up and realize what is happening globally to actual human beings in the name of fighting the war on terror, the assault on our constitution,” she said.
After The Road to Guantánamo, local attorney Deborra Garrett will facilitate a discussion about Guantánamo. Garrett is the recipient of the Washington State Bar Association local hero award.
“We’ll talk about the prison and prisoners in general,” Garrett said.
“We’ll talk about the polices the Administration has adopted in creating, peopling and maintaining this prison, and what the implications of those polices may be within our country and throughout the world,” she said.