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Groups Denounce Stealth Senate Amendment on Detainees

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As Senator Graham planned to introduce an amendment today to the military appropriations bill that would strip U.S. courts of any jurisdiction over detainees at Guantánamo and other U.S. facilities around the world, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and allies spoke out against this attack on the rule of law, the fundamental principle of habeas corpus and the separation of powers. CCR issued a statement (below), and Judge John Gibbons, who argued the landmark CCR case Rasul v. Bush before the Supreme Court, John Hutson, Dean of Franklin Pierce Law Center, the New York City Bar, The National Institute for Military Justice and others will have open letters read by senators on the Senate floor.

CCR STATEMENT: GRAHAM AMENDMENT WOULD DESTROY HABEAS CORPUS AND STRIP COURTS OF JURISDICTION FOR DETAINEES

In a historic victory, the Center for Constitutional Rights successfully argued before the Supreme Court in June 2004 that individuals held in U.S.-run facilities like Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are entitled to access the U.S. judicial system to have a fair hearing on the status of their detention. Since then, the Center for Constitutional Rights has established a team of over 450 attorneys from the country's most prestigious private law firms who have filed writs of habeas corpus on behalf of the men held at Guantánamo Bay. The Bush Administration has done everything in its power to defy the Supreme Court's mandate in Rasul affording the men at Guantánamo access to the federal judicial system.

Senator Graham of North Carolina stated his intention to introduce an amendment today to the defense appropriations bill that would strip the federal courts of habeas jurisdiction and prohibit courts from reviewing challenges to indefinite detention not only from Guantánamo detainees, but from any non-citizens who have the misfortune of finding themselves at any U.S.-run facility within or without our Nation's borders. It would create a thousand points of darkness around the world where U.S. officials would be free to ignore the crucial role of the courts as a check against unfettered Executive power, a judicial role enshrined in our Constitution. The Graham amendment would formalize the lawless policies of the Bush Administration and result in the continued torture of prisoners held in U.S. custody.

It is no secret that arbitrary indefinite detention and widespread prisoner mistreatment have taken and continue to take place at Guantánamo and other U.S.-run facilities. It is precisely this unchecked Executive tyranny that the historic writ of habeas corpus was designed to prevent. As the United States Supreme Court stated firmly in Rasul, "Consistent with the historic purpose of the writ, this Court has recognized the federal courts' power to review applications for habeas relief in a wide variety of cases involving Executive detention, in wartime as well as in times of peace."

Senator Graham's jurisdiction-stripping efforts come as allegations of secret CIA detention facilities around the world dominate headlines; the day after the Senate defeated an amendment that would have created an independent commission to investigate torture at U.S. facilities, further evading oversight and accountability; and two days after the Administration charged five more detainees at Guantánamo to go before the very military commission that the Supreme Court announced it would review for constitutionality that morning.

The Graham Amendment will only serve to reinforce the growing perception that the United States has become an enemy of human rights. The documented fact that in many cases the "evidence" against these men has been procured by torture and other inhumane methods only worsens the situation. To the extent that our courts have honored the writ of habeas corpus and basic principles of due process, they have served to dispel the terrible image that this Administration has soiled the American people with. The Graham Amendment is a last minute stealth attack upon the integrity of our Constitution and Bill of Rights that will destroy the little amount of good will we have achieved as a result of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court and lower courts. Just as a few small rays of light were beginning to trickle into the legal black hole at Guantánamo, Senator Graham proposes to return it to darkness.

We urge Senator Graham to drop this ill-advised proposal and instead to permit the courts to complete the judicial inquiry that the United States Supreme Court mandated and he proposes to abort.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.