HABEAS SCHMABEAS

HABEAS SCHMABEAS… A lot of shameful things went on in the run-up to the midterm election, but to my mind the worst offence was the rushed passage of the Military Commissions Act, with its denial of habeas corpus to detainees. Jeffrey Toobin has a useful primer in the New Yorker this week which a) reminds readers just how bad the legislation is, and b) details Arlen Specter?s role in the sorry affair (Specter had sponsored an amendment that would have restored habeas corpus to the bill, but when the amendment was narrowly defeated, he voted for the bill anyway.)

At the time, I thought Democrats got way too much credit for their handling of this episode?the Times devoted an entire piece to chronicling how Senate Democrats had supposedly found their voice on national security issues. (They were probably heartened by some polling floating around that week from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, which found that Dems tested well when they talked tough on national security.) Admittedly, some Democrats did make some fine speeches. But without any attempt to filibuster the bill or delay it through procedural means, such opposition was only ever really window dressing. (In contrast, Senate Democrats did manage to stall the administration?s efforts to legitimatize its wiretapping activities.)

Unfortunately, as Toobin explains, Democrats seem to be in no rush to repair the damage in the foreseeable future:

?Few Democratic politicians seem enthusiastic about proposing legislation that will principally benefit accused Al Qaeda terrorists, and, in the unlikely event that Democrats passed such a bill, it would face a certain veto from President Bush. The Supreme Court?not Congress?is likely to be the only hope for a change in the law. ?This is definitely not going to be the first thing out of the box for us,? one Democratic Senate staffer said. ?We make fun of Specter, but we?re basically leaving it up to the Courts, too.?

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