Gonzales Questions Habeas Corpus
By Robert Parry
January 19, 2007
In one of the most chilling public statements ever made by a U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales questioned whether the U.S. Constitution grants habeas corpus rights of a fair trial to every American.
Responding to questions from Sen. Arlen Specter at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 18, Gonzales argued that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly bestow habeas corpus rights; it merely says when the so-called Great Writ can be suspended.
“There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution; there’s a prohibition against taking it away,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales’s remark left Specter, the committee’s ranking Republican, stammering.
“Wait a minute,” Specter interjected. “The Constitution says you can’t take it away except in case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus unless there’s a rebellion or invasion?”
Gonzales continued, “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended” except in cases of rebellion or invasion.
“You may be treading on your interdiction of violating common sense,” Specter said.
While Gonzales’s statement has a measure of quibbling precision to it, his logic is troubling because it would suggest that many other fundamental rights that Americans hold dear also don’t exist because the Constitution often spells out those rights in the negative.
For instance, the First Amendment declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Applying Gonzales’s reasoning, one could argue that the First Amendment doesn’t explicitly say Americans have the right to worship as they choose, speak as they wish or assemble peacefully. The amendment simply bars the government, i.e. Congress, from passing laws that would impinge on these rights.
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