As the Senate resumed debate today on a Defense Department policy bill, Senator Bernie Sanders backed a provision by Senator Patrick Leahy to restore habeas corpus rights to all people under American jurisdiction.
"We can fight international terrorism without undermining the Bill of Rights and our international standing as a defender of human rights," Sanders said. "Of course suspected terrorists should be brought to justice, but it is fundamentally un-American to deny accused prisoners the right to a day in court to contest the reasons they are being detained."
A Republican filibuster blocked an up-or-down vote on the measure. The 56-to-43 vote to end debate was four short of the number needed.
Sanders has long been a leader in opposing President Bush's attacks on American constitutional rights and was one of the few to vote against the USA Patriot Act. He also voted against The Military Commissions Act one year ago when Congress stripped some prisoners of the basic right to go to court to challenge their detention.
Current law shuts off access to U.S. courts for any non-citizen who is deemed to be an enemy combatant and even those "awaiting" such a determination. As many as 12 million lawful permanent residents in the United States, people who work and pay taxes here, could fall into that category.
Sanders is a cosponsor of Leahy legislation that would undo the ban on detainees contesting their treatment and seeking freedom. It would allow prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere to contest their incarceration in federal court.
"This is the first step toward restoring the constitutional protections that are the bedrock of our democracy that have been gutted by President Bush and his administration," Sanders said.