Habeus Corpus brouhaha

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By The Staff

Dear Editor,

As I understand it, the recent Supreme Court decision reaffirmed the right of habeus corpus to all accused persons within the legal jurisdiction of the United States. I am not a lawyer but understand that habeus corpus translates to “do you have a body?” to prove that a crime was actually committed. This has been a fundamental principle of our western law system for centuries. An accused person cannot be held unless there is proof that a crime was committed.

The alternative to the right of habeus corpus is a system in which anyone can be imprisoned indefinitely, without being charged, or indeed without any proof that a crime was committed. Is this the American way? I think not, and the Supreme Court has rightfully reaffirmed our Anglo-American judicial system.

Robert Seegmiller, in his possibly sarcastic letter to the Monitor (June 24) seems to agree with John McCain and Newt Gingrich that this right should not apply to all people within American jurisdiction – for instance, as the editorial-page cartoon on the same page suggests, to the prisoners at Gitmo, some of which have been separated from their homes and families for years without being charged.

This pointless brouhaha has arisen because our country is governed by laws. If there is a disagreement over what a particular law means, we have a court system which settles disputes, with the final decision resting with the Supreme Court. That decision is final, until the law is changed.

So objectors face a decision with one choice being an attempt to get the Constitution changed to exclude certain people or groups from the protection of all, or selected, laws. For example, during the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s, some wanted to repeal the Bill of Rights’ Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination because it was being used by suspected Communists and sympathizers in hearings before the Senate committees. Fortunately, that attempt never got off the ground. The other choice is the one we have survived with for more than 200 years. Like it or lump it.

John Lilley

Los Alamos