I woke up to some good news for a change: The U.S. Supreme Court, of whom I hold a pretty dim opinion to say the least, has ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are subject to the same laws as other citizens of the United States, including the right of Habeas Corpus.
This puts the Supremes in line with Civilization for a change. All we’ve been saying is Well, if these men are so evil, why don’t you just charge them, try them in a court of law (not a military tribunal), and convict them? If what they have done is so horrible it should be a pretty easy case, shouldn’t it?
No, chimed the Government. These men are so dangerous that we have to overturn a seven hundred year old law in order to convict them.
Habeas Corpus, which translates as “produce the body”, is an extremely important legal principle. It was a charter that simply meant that a representative of the courts (like a judge or a magistrate) could demand of a representative of the king (like a jailer or constable) to see a prisoner and ask why they were being held.
In other words the king was not the absolute law of the land. The law had to apply to all, from the peasantry to the monarchy. The ruler was not supposed to be able throw someone into a dungeon (or a prison camp on an island) without explaining why.
Little wonder then that modern governments will repeatedly (because I don’t think this is the last time we will see this) attempt to eliminate Habeas Corpus. They will always pick the worst cases like suspected terrorists or child molesters or someone really vile, and tell us all that for our own safety these types cannot be given a trial.
But once they establish that, once the government successfully declares (as the current administration tried to) that the law applies to everyone except for some people then as far as I’m concerned this country is no longer a republic, if it ever really was one.
One can never, ever, allow the government to make a special class of people, either above or below the law.
I think I’ll take a moment and re-read Peter Linebaugh’s essay on the history of the Magna Carta, in which is contained the right to Habeas Corpus, and if you have the notion you can read it too.
Tonight let’s raise our glasses and toast to a world without Kings!