Rebekah Kennedy On Mark Pryor And Habeas CorpusAs a civil rights lawyer, one of the primary concerns Rebekah Kennedy has in her campaign for the United States Senate is the attack on constitutional liberty by right wing politicians. Unfortunately, the right wing politicians engaged in attacks against the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution are not limited to the Republican Party. Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Pryor has been helping George W. Bush undermine the Constitution, with crucial votes for anti-liberty laws like the FISA Amendments Act and the Military Commissions Act. Rebekah Kennedy is using her campaign for Senate to speak out about the serious risks to American liberty that must be addressed in the next session of Congress. The following transcript is a portion of a longer conversation between progressive web site Irregular Times and Rebekah Kennedy. This section focuses on Kennedy's concerns about the Military Commissions Act's revocation of habeas corpus rights. ------- Irregular Times: You talked about the Military Commissions Act. We have been following that issue for a couple years now. When you communicate with people in Arkansas about that, do you have a hard time getting to believe that it's actually happened? I think you have a hard time with that anywhere. People are so used to things being the way that they are that it's hard for them to understand that when we say the Constitution is under attack, that's not hyperbole. We mean it. This is not an issue of one side favoring a different tax policy than the other side. This isn't the kind of divide you normally have between political parties that disagree with each other about policy in a healthy political system. This is one side of the political spectrum, the so-called conservative, Republican side of the spectrum, attacking the very idea of the rule of law. It's hard to get that across to people, the idea that they have passed legislation that purports to give our President the power to lock people up forever without trial. They characterize it as locking up terrorists to protect you, but if you read that legislation, first of all, it doesn't say anything about being a terrorist. It says if you're an enemy and an alien, you can be locked up forever without a trial, you can be tried with evidence you can''t see, or you can be tried in secret. It says that the President determines whether or not you're an enemy, and more importantly, the President determines whether or not you're an alien, or his designee, some bureaucrat in Washington, can determine that you're not a citizen of the United States, either because they choose not to believe the documentary evidence that you were born here in the United States, or perhaps because they have some secret Executive Order different definition of what it means to be an alien, because they've also claimed the power to make secret Executive Orders changing the law without the Congress's knowledge. It wouldn't matter if you're Bill Clinton. If they make the determination that you're an enemy alien, their position is that that can't be reviewed by any court. The determination can be wrong on its face. It can be factually wrong. It can be legally wrong, and you can be locked up forever without a trial, because they say that nobody has the right to review those facts. Nobody has the right to review those legal conclusions. Irregular Times: You're a lawyer. I'm not a lawyer, but you tell me if I'm right about this. Isn't that what habeas corpus is all about? If they take away habeas corpus, they could take somebody who is a U.S. citizen and hasn't done anything wrong, and because there's no habeas corpus, no one could ever prove that. They could put you in a prison, and you could never prove it took place, right? Exactly. Habeas corpus is your opportunity to prove that the proceedings that have led to your incarceration have been improper or incorrect, or have come to the wrong conclusion. Without habeas corpus, it almost doesn't matter what the law is, because what the law is at that point has almost nothing to do with what the government can do to you. If there is no habeas corpus, it's just a matter that if there are enough people to guard the cell that you're in, then your detention stands. Irregular Times: So then, in a sense, it doesn't matter if the law says that you have to be an enemy or an alien, does it? Precisely, because no court is going to review that. In fact, this very thing has happened. This is not science fiction. There are cases that lawyers refer to as the Chinese Exclusion cases. One of them is Wong Wing v. U.S.. This is a gentleman who was born in San Francisco, California in the 19th century. As a young man, he decided to take a trip to China to meet some of his relatives, discover his roots, learn about his ancestors, the kind of thing that young people do. Upon his return to San Francisco, he was refused entry to the United States on the grounds that the Department of Labor, which in those days was in charge of all Chinese immigration, did not believe that his U.S. passport and U.S. birth certificate were genuine, even though there was no evidence that they were not genuine. Their position was that there were a lot of Chinese guys trying to get into the United States with U.S. passports and birth certificates, and "they all look fake to us." This was before the days of photographic ID, and they decided that they didn't believe this guy. So, he was excluded from the United States. Numerous prominent, bright business owners in San Francisco who were friends of his family testified on his behalf to a commission set up by the Department of Labor to determine who is and who is not a citizen of the United States. These men swear on Bibles and declare that they've known this man since he was a child, that he was born in San Francisco, California, and that he is a citizen of the United States. The Department of Labor fails to preserve a transcript of this hearing as the hearing is appealed up to a higher administrative office in the Department of Labor. None of this testimony is ever heard by the Secretary of Labor. All he sees is the conclusion of the lower administrative hearing officer that the man is not a citizen, and so he continues to be excluded from the United States. Finally, he brings a petition for habeas corpus to the United States Supreme Court, and it is only through the petition for habeas corpus that this person, who is born an American citizen, is able to re-enter his own country after being excluded for nearly five years. That is what habeas corpus is all about, and that is what we're risking when we start suspending habeas corpus, and saying that the President or his deputy can start making determinations that cannot be reviewed by the courts. Irregular Times: You've talked about Mark Pryor as someone who is part of machine politics, and as someone who is not a leader. Even if he isn't a leader, though, why would he go along with something like this, taking habeas corpus away? I think that there are a couple of reasons for that. One is that he cynically believes that all Arkansans are conservative and that rather than try to explain the issue of habeas corpus as I've just been explaining it to you, his safest course for getting votes is to just do what he thinks everyone in Arkansas already thinks, and don't try to stand up for anything, or disagree with anybody, or try to explain anything. He has judged that rather than leadership, what the people of Arkansas need is a mirror to reflect back at them what they already think. So, if polls say that 60 percent of people say that there are some conditions under which you might torture a terrorist, if it was a scenario like the series 24, then that's Mark Pryor's position. I think the other reason is that his actual ideological beliefs are right wing. It's not a matter of failing to stand up for progressive values. He doesn't have progressive values. I don't think that Mark Pryor is a person who thinks very deeply about liberty, particularly when you're talking about the liberty of people he may not identify with being threatened. Like a lot of conservatives, he sees this as an issue not of human rights, but of what will or won't happen to some Muslim, or some Arab. I just don't think that registers very highly on his radar. The Muslim vote is not a very high percentage of the vote in Arkansas, and he just doesn't feel that he needs to take into account anything that happens to people who aren't a high percentage of the vote in Arkansas.
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