Habeas Corpus and Other Quaint Ideas From the Past

by Devanshu Mehta

While I admit that there may be some geeky fashions and some fashion geeks, here at Science Addiction I try to stay away from fashion. But this one is different.

See, back in the 20th century- and in fact, much earlier- there used to be a quaint concept called Habeas Corpus that was quite in vogue. Now, along with the dot-com boom (renamed as Web2.0) and the Y2K crisis (renamed as Daylight Savings bug), this idea from the past is making a come back!

It’s all Greek to me, you say. Well, it’s Latin, young Geek. Habeas Corpus, literally translated as you have the body.

In the legal system, in many countries around the world including the United States, it means that a person detained by the government has the right to seek relief from unlawful imprisonment. The United States Constitution specifically states that it shall not be suspended, unless there is a rebellion or invasion and the public safety requires it.

In fact, the Brits, when they ruled the United States, said, “The air of England has long been too pure for a slave, and every man is free who breathes it.” The same was later carried forth in the US (after slavery was abolished, of course). Which is why most of our detainees are in Guantanamo.

The air in Cuba… not so pure.

Though it had been partially suspended (in only some states) during the Civil War and then weakened after the Oklahoma City bombing, post-9/11 it has been deemed unnecessary by the administration in a series of events including:
* The October 2006- just prior to the November elections- passing of the Military Commisions Act that suspended habeas corpus for unlawful enemy combatants.
* The January 2007 statement by Attorney General Gonzales that while hc was a “cherished right” , the constitution did not guarantee it.

More on the US History of habeas corpus at Wikipedia.
More on the history of Habeas Corpus in the 20th century US Supreme Court.

Ah, how the mighty have fallen. Once the centerpiece of the fashionable legal expert’s repertoire, it was now left in the back of the closet along with “seperate but equal” and “women vote? lol rofl!”

Until this week- the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with an 11-8 vote split along party lines, with all but one Republican voting against it. It can be brought to vote in Congress this month. This, coupled with the recent ruling by military judges that the detainees at Guantanamo may be “enemy combatants” but not necessarily “unlawful enemy combatants”, could bring old habeas in step with the YouTube generation.

Wait, it already is.