About four thousand people rallied in Washington today to advocate the restoration of habeas corpus and other constitutional rights undermined by the Bush Administration, according to estimates from the ACLU.
Organizers say they are delivering about 200,000 petition signatures to Congress that demand immediate action to "restore habeas corpus, fix the Military Commissions Act, end torture and rendition and restore our constitutional rights." This is not a one-day affair, either. The rally is designed to continue online until Congress acts. A coalition of over 50 organizations, led by the ACLU and Amnesty International, is recruiting supporters through an official website; Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy started a website asking people to pressure his Senate colleagues into supporting the habeas bill; and MoveOn has launched a new campaign to end torture, pass habeas legislation and "Restore the Rule of Law." MoveOn organizer Nita Chaudhary is leading the important effort, which includes support from retired Generals Robert Gard and John Johns, who spoke out in favor of closing Guantanamo this week.
Writing about the rally on the blog FireDogLake today, former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith urged her netroots readers to lobby Congress. "We are better than jailing people in perpetuity without a determination of innocence or guilt. And we owe a debt, both to our founders and to future generations, to right this profound wrong," she wrote.
This push comes at a critical time. The Senate will consider legislation on defense issues and habeas corpus when it returns from recess in July. Several Democratic presidential candidates now raise these issues on the trail. Dodd and Edwards challenge Bush's entire approach to the Global War on Terror, while Obama has been singling out habeas corpus in his stump speech for months (which the AP recently noticed). And this week the Bush Administration publicly debated when to close Guantanamo – not if.
So even the people who created Gitmo won't defend it.
In fact, the only people left supporting Bush's detainee policy offer unintelligible slogans, like Mitt Romney's promise to "double Guantanamo," or embarrassing falsehoods, such as James Taranto's Wall Street Journal column today, which claims that the executive branch "protects our freedom" by "keeping" people "out of our justice system." Suspending habeas corpus and denying people their right to challenge government detention actually limits "freedom," of course, but with no logical defense of Gitmo available, Mr. Taranto just throws around inflammatory words. The same column attacks Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for trying to "endanger the lives of American civilians." Why? Because Powell's proposal to close Gitmo supports "constitutional protections" for individuals in U.S. custody.
Yet this is one way to tell that the push for habeas corpus and human rights is working: With the administration openly planning to close the base, the diehard Gitmo defenders are getting desperate and shrill. Now they argue that Americans' lives are "endangered" by our generals and our constitution. Mr. Taranto and the diehards can loudly take their side against the constitution and the generals, but who will join them?
UPDATE: Phillip Carter, an attorney and former U.S. Army Officer who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, rebuts James Taranto's attack on Powell in a post on the blog Intel Dump. Carter emphasizes that as a realist, Powell was motivated primarily by the national security benefits to supporting the Geneva Conventions and closing Gitmo. Carter explains: "[Powell] felt, as I do, that taking a narrow, cribbed view of these international laws would undermine our security in the long run, and that America would be stronger if it continued to lead the world on issues of law in war [...] Powell is a hard-bitten realist, and always has been. His opinions on Gitmo relect a cost-benefit calculation about the benefits of keeping this facility open versus the costs to American interests of doing so."