Panel OKs Bill for Guantanamo Detainees

The Associated Press
Thursday, June 7, 2007; 7:30 PM

WASHINGTON -- A bill that would allow terrorism suspects access to federal courts to challenge their imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The committee, on an 11-8 vote, advanced a bill that would allow those prisoners, as well as millions of legal non-citizens inside the United States, to protest detentions through a writ of habeas corpus.

All of the committee's Democrats and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee's top Republican, voted for the legislation. The rest of the GOP senators voted against it.

Congress, while under GOP control last year, stripped federal courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo cases. As a result, detainees only had recourse to challenge their imprisonment through special military tribunals that omitted rights common in civil courts.

Administration officials and most Republicans say they do not think dangerous terror suspects should have access to federal courts or other rights granted to U.S. citizens under the Constitution.

But Democrats and Specter say a person's right to file a special legal petition to protest detention, known as a writ of habeas corpus, is considered a fundamental right in civilized society. Eliminating that right would undermine the nation's reputation abroad, they said.

The bill passed without debate.

"The great history of our nation is built on having judicial review, on having openness, and we should not out of fear or indifference or whatever turn our back on that great history," said Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The legislation is expected to be offered later this month as an amendment to the Senate's $649 billion defense authorization bill for 2008. The defense policy bill already includes several provisions aimed at expanding the legal protections of detainees.

"Whatever long term counterterrorism strategy America pursues will be undermined if we fail to adhere to our longstanding American values," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.

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The bill is S.185

Senate Judiciary Committee: http://judiciary.senate.gov


© 2007 The Associated Press