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Habeas Corpus
But we were born free.

by Everett Wilson
November 25, 2006

I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free,

And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me,

And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today,

Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land God Bless the U.S.A.
-Lee Greenwood

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul is arrested by the Romans. Then he intimidates his captors with the simple statement that he is a Roman citizen - not only a citizen, but a born citizen. That carried a lot of clout. His citizenship meant protection from mistreatment by his own government. Until this week I felt that protection myself.

"Habeas Corpus" is a subject American citizens don't normally have to think about any more than we have to think about breathing. We have always been protected by its safeguards.

Today, I can only hope I'm free; I am no longer as sure as I was.

The British have a right to explain Habeas Corpus, because its modern history dates from the Magna Carta, accepted by King John of England nearly eight hundred years ago. Here is how the BBC website defines it. "It is a writ which requires a person detained by the authorities be brought before a court of law so that the legality of the detention may be examined. . . It does not determine guilt or innocence, merely whether the person is legally imprisoned."

Habeas Corpus is a guarantee against secret arrest and imprisonment -government kidnapping, as it were. The government may legally arrest you, "have the body," if it suspects you of heinous crime - but it has to be able to explain why, and to do it if called upon.

It is a principal reason we feel safe from the government in the United States. Secret proceedings conducted by people who have their hands on you are the greatest sin against freedom. That is ultimate power. Such a government is able to "disappear" you for any reason it thinks good enough.

We have a Secret Service in the United States. We don't have a Secret Police. Do we?

I happen to love Lee Greenwood's song. I can't help it. It expresses how I felt, and how I want to feel still. But Congress last week took that from me when they took Habeas Corpus from some of our captives. Their action, and the less than thunderous protest of American citizens this week, remind me of the famous words of Martin Niemoller, reflecting on his experience as a German in World War II:
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
It seems to me that we either like Greenwood's song or we like the Military Commissions Act. I don't see how we can like both at once. I, for one, no longer know I'm free - and I can't until this dreadful law is repealed.

About the Author:
Everett Wilson used to be Barnabas in The Partial Observer.

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