“A Total Rollback Of
Everything This Country Has Stood For”
Sen. Patrick Leahy Blasts
Congressional Approval of Detainee Bill
The Senate has agreed to give President Bush extraordinary power
to detain and try prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The
legislation strips detainees of the right to challenge their own
detention and gives the President the power to detain them
Broadcast : 09/29/06
Democracy Now! - Runtime 12 Minutes
The Senate passed the measure sixty
five to thirty four. Twelve Democrats joined the Republican
majority. The House passed virtually the same legislation on
Wednesday. Legal groups, including the Center for Constitutional
Rights, are already preparing to challenge the constitutionality
of the law in court.
- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Ranking member on the
Senate Judiciary Committee. See Senator Leahy’s statement on
the detainee bill
- Michael Ratner. President of the Center for
AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, Democratic Senator Patrick
Leahy of Vermont condemned the legislation from the floor of the
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: It grieves me to think that
three decades in this body that I stand here in the Senate,
knowing that we’re thinking of doing this. It is so wrong.
It is unconstitutional. It is un-American. It is designed to
ensure the Bush-Cheney administration will never again be
embarrassed by a United States Supreme Court decision
reviewing its unlawful abuses of power. The Supreme Court
said, ‘You abused your power.’ He said, ‘Ha, we’ll fix that.
We have a rubber stamp, a rubber stamp, Congress, that will
just set that aside and give us power that nobody, no king
or anybody else set foot in this land, ever thought of
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy speaking
Thursday prior to the vote. He joins us now on the telephone.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Thank you. It’s good to be with
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us, Senator.
Now, if you could explain exactly what this bill that the Senate
has just approved with a number of Democrats joining with the
Republicans, what exactly it does.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: First off, as you probably
gathered from what I was saying on the floor, it’s a terrible
bill. It removes as many checks and balances as possible so that
any president can basically set the law, determine what laws
they’ll follow and what laws they’ll break and not have anybody
be able to question them on it.
In this case, the particular section I was speaking about at
that point was the so-called habeas protection. Now,
habeas corpus was first brought in the Magna Carta in the
1200s. It’s been a tenet of our rights as Americans. And what
they're saying is that if you’re an alien, even if you’re in the
United States legally, a legal alien, may have been here ten
years, fifteen years, twenty years legally, if a determination
is made by anybody in the executive that you may be a threat,
they can hold you indefinitely, they could put you in
Guantanamo, not bring any charges, not allow you to have a
lawyer, not allow you to ever question what they’ve done, even
in cases, as they now acknowledge, where they have large numbers
of people in Guantanamo who are there by mistake, that they put
you -- say you’re a college professor who has written on Islam
or for whatever reason, and they lock you up. You’re not even
allowed to question it. You’re not allowed to have a lawyer, not
allowed to say, “Wait a minute, you’ve got the wrong person. Or
you’ve got -- the one you’re looking for, their name is spelled
similar to mine, but it’s not me.” It makes no difference. You
have no recourse whatsoever.
This goes so much against everything we've ever done. Now,
we’ve had some on the other side say, ‘Well, they're trying to
give rights to terrorists.’ No, we’re just saying that the
United States will follow the rules it has before and will
protect rights of people. We’re not giving any new rights. We’re
just saying that if, for example, if you picked up the wrong
person, you at least have a chance to get somebody independent
to make that judgment.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, on this issue of habeas
corpus, I want to play a clip from yesterday’s Senate debate
and have you respond. This is Republican Senator Jeff Sessions
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS: It was never, ever, ever, ever
intended or imagined that during the War of 1812, that it
British soldiers were captured burning of the Capitol of the
United States, as they did, that they would have been given
habeas corpus rights. It was never thought to be.
habeas corpus was applied to citizens, really, at that
time, and I believe that that’s so plain as to be without
AMY GOODMAN: Republican Senator Jeff Sessions. Senator
Leahy, your response.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Well, I wish it was as plain as he
says. Of course, in the Hamdan decision, the U.S. Supreme
Court has made it very clear that it is available in somebody
captured. In a case like what he was talking about, if somebody
had been captured there and held in prison, and they said, “You
have the wrong person,” they could at least raise it. And you
also have, of course, under the Constitution, that habeas
can be suspended if there is an invasion, if there is an
insurrection. We have neither case here. Even the most
conservative Republican legal thinkers have said this is not a
case to suspend habeas corpus.
You know, they can set up all the straw men they want, but
the fact is this allows the Bush administration to act totally
arbitrarily with no court or anybody else to raise any questions
about it. It allows them to cover up any mistakes they make. And
this goes beyond just marking everything “secret,” as they do
now. Every mistake they make, they just mark it “secret.” But
this is even worse. This means somebody could be locked up for
five years, ten years, fifteen years, twenty years. They have
the wrong person, and they have no rights to be able to say,
“Hey guys, you’ve got the wrong person.” It goes against
everything that we’ve done as Americans.
You know, when things like this were done during the Cold War
in some of the Iron Curtain countries, I remember all the
speeches on the Senate floor, Democrats and Republicans alike
saying, “How horrible this is! Thank God we don’t do things like
this in America.” I wish they’d go back and listen to some of
their speeches at that time.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, this was not a close vote:
65 to 34. The twelve Democrats who joined with the Republicans,
except for Senator Chafee of Rhode Island, the twelve Democrats
are Tom Carper of Delaware, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Mary
Landrieu of Louisiana, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, as well
as Senator Menendez of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben
Nelson of Nebraska, Senator Pryor of Arkansas, Jay Rockefeller
of West Virginia, Ken Salazar of Colorado, Debbie Stabenow of
Michigan and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. They joined with
the Republicans. You are working very hard to get a Democratic
majority in the Senate in these next elections and in Congress
overall. What difference would it make?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: In their defense, all but one of
them voted with me when we moved to strike the habeas
provisions out. That was the Specter-Leahy amendment, and we
had, I think it was, 51-48, I think, was the final vote on that.
All but one of the Democrats joined with me on that. If we had
gotten three or four more Republicans, we would have at least
struck out the habeas provision. There are -- you know, I
AMY GOODMAN: But they voted for this bill without
that, with the habeas provision being stripped out.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I’ll let each one speak for
themselves. The fact that the Republicans were virtually
lockstep in it, though, should be what I would look at. And
maybe we’re blessed in Vermont --
AMY GOODMAN: But that larger question, that larger
question of, what would be any different if Democrats were in
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: For one thing, we would have been
asking the questions about what’s been going on for six years.
We’ve had a rubberstamp congress that automatically has given
the President anything he wants, because nobody’s asked
questions. Nobody’s asked the questions that are in the Woodward
book that’s coming out this weekend, where you find all the
mistakes were made because they will acknowledge no mistakes.
The Republicans control both the House and the Senate. They will
not call hearings. They won’t try to find out how did
Halliburton walk off with billions of dollars in cost overruns
in Iraq. Why did the Bush administration refuse to send the body
armor our troops needed in Iraq? Why did they send inferior
And, of course, the two questions that the Congress would not
ask, because the Republicans won’t allow it, is, why did 9/11
happen on George Bush's watch when he had clear warnings that it
was going to happen? Why did they allow it to happen? And
secondly, when they had Osama bin Laden cornered, why didn’t
they get him? Had there been an independent congress, one that
could ask questions, these questions would have been asked years
ago. We’d be much better off. We would have had the answers to
that. I think with those answers, we would not have the fiasco
we have in Iraq today, we would have caught Osama bin Laden,
Afghanistan would be a more stable place, and the world would be
AMY GOODMAN: Was President Bush on Capitol Hill
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, yes, indeed. You can always
tell, because virtually the whole city comes to a screeching
halt with the motorcades, although it’s sort of like that when
Dick Cheney comes up to give orders to the Republican Caucus. He
comes up with a 15 to 25 vehicle caravan. It’s amazing to watch.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was Bush doing yesterday on
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Oh, he was just telling them they
had to vote this way. They had to vote. They couldn’t hand him a
defeat. They had to go with him They had to trust him. It’ll get
us past the election. We had offered a -- you know, five years
ago, I and others had suggested there is a way to have military
tribunals for the detainees, where it would meet all our
standards and basic international standards. They rejected that.
And now, five weeks before the elections, they say, ‘Oh, yes, we
need something like that.’ No, basically what he was saying to
them, don’t ask questions, get us past the elections, because if
you ask questions, the answers are going to be embarrassing, and
it could hurt you in the elections.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, we have to break for one
minute. We ask you to stay with us. We’ll also be joined by CCR
president, Center for Constitutional Rights president, Michael
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Vermont Democratic Senator
Patrick Leahy and Michael Ratner of the Center for
Constitutional Rights. He is president there. Michael Ratner,
your response, as we speak with the senator about this
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I think Senator Leahy really got
it right. I mean, what this bill authorizes is really the
authority of an authoritarian despot to the president. I mean,
what it gives him is the power, as the senator said, to detain
any person anywhere in the world, citizen or non-citizen,
whether living in the United States or anywhere else. I mean,
what kind of authority is that? No checks and balances. Nothing.
Now, if you’re a citizen, you still get your right of habeas
corpus. If you’re a non-citizen, as the senator pointed out,
you’re completely finished. Picked up, legal permanent resident
in the United States, detained forever, no writ of habeas
It was incredibly shocking. I watched that vote yesterday. I
had been in Washington for two or three days trying to line up
the votes for Senator Leahy’s amendment that would have restored
habeas. We thought we had them. We lost at 51 to 48. I
have to tell you, Amy, I just -- I basically broke down at that
point. I had been working like a dog on this thing. And there I
saw the President come to Capitol Hill and persuade two or three
or four of the Republicans who we thought we had to vote to
strip habeas corpus from this legislation. It was a
shock. I mean, an utter shock.
So you have this ability to detain anyone anywhere in the
world. You deny them the writ of habeas corpus. And when
they're in detention, you have a right to do all kinds of
coercive techniques on them: hooding, stripping, anything really
the president says goes, short of what he defines as torture.
And then, if you are lucky enough to be tried, and I say “lucky
enough,” because, for example, the 460 people the Center
represents at Guantanamo may never get trials. In fact, only ten
have even been charged. Those people, they’ve been stripped of
their right to go to court and test their detention by habeas
corpus. They’re just -- they’ve been there five years. Right
now, under this legislation, they could be there forever.
Let me tell you, this bill will be struck down and struck
down badly. But meanwhile, for two more years or whatever it’s
going to take us to litigate it, we’re going to be litigating
what was a basic right, as the senator said, since the Magna
Carta of 1215, the right of any human being to test their
detention in court. It’s one of the saddest days I’ve seen.
You’ve called it “groundbreaking,” Amy. It’s really
Constitution-breaking. It’s Constitution-shattering. It shatters
really basic rights that we've had for a very long time.
AMY GOODMAN: Senator Leahy, how long have you been a
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I’ve been there 32 years. I have
to absolutely agree with what I just heard. I mean, this is --
it’s Kafka. But it’s more than that. It’s just a total rollback
of everything this country has stood for. I mean, you have 100
people, very privileged, members of the Senate voting this way
and with no realization of what it would be like if you were the
one who was picked up. Maybe you’re guilty, but quite often, as
we’ve seen, purely by accident and then held for years.
You know, I was a prosecutor for eight years. I prosecuted an
awful lot of people, sent a lot of people to prison. But I did
it arguing that everybody's rights had to be protected, because
mistakes are often made. You want to make sure that if you’re
prosecuting somebody, you’re prosecuting the right person. Here,
they don't care whether mistakes are made or not.
And you have to stand up. I mean, it was a Vermonter -- you
go way back in history -- it was a Vermonter who stood up
against the Alien and Sedition Act, Matthew Lyon. He was
prosecuted on that, put in jail, as a congressman, put in jail.
And Vermont showed what they thought of these unconstitutional
laws. We in Vermont reelected him, and eventually the laws fell
down. There was another Vermonter, Ralph Flanders, who stood up
to Joseph McCarthy and his reign of fear and stopped that. I
mean, you have to stand. What has happened, here we are, a great
powerful good nation, and we’re running scared. We’re willing to
set aside all our values and running scared. What an example
that is to the rest of the world.
AMY GOODMAN: You gave an example, Senator Leahy, when
you talked about what would happen here. And, I mean, even the
fact that “habeas corpus” is in Latin, I think, distances
people. They don’t quite understand what this is about.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: “Bring the body.”
AMY GOODMAN: You gave a very -- sorry?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: “Bring the body.”
AMY GOODMAN: You gave a very graphic example. You
said, “Imagine you’re a law-abiding lawful permanent resident.
In your spare time you do charitable fundraising for
international relief agencies that lend a hand in disasters.”
Take that story from there, the example you used.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: You send money. You don’t care
which particular religious group or civic group it is. They’re
doing humanitarian work. You send the money. It turns out that
one of them is giving money to various Islamic causes that the
United States is concerned about. They come to your house. Maybe
somebody has called into one of these anonymous tipster lines,
saying, “You know, this Amy Goodman. I’m somewhat worried about
her, simply because she’s going -- and I think I’ve seen some
Muslim-looking people coming to her house.” They come in there,
and they say, “We want to talk to you.” They bring you downtown.
You’re a legal alien, legal resident here. And you say, “Well,
look, I’ve got my rights. I’d like to talk to a lawyer.” They
say, “No, no. You don’t have any rights.” “Well, then I’m not
going to talk to you.” “Well, then now we’re twice as concerned
about you. We’re going to spirit you down to Guantanamo, and
we’ll get back to in a few years.” And, I mean, that could
actually happen under this. And these are not far-fetched ideas,
as the professor knows. He’s seen similar things.
And with that, and I would love to continue this
conversation, unfortunately I’ve got to go back to my day job,
back to the judiciary. I think this is going to go down as one
of those black marks in the Congress. You know, I wasn’t there
at the time, but virtually everybody voted for the Tonkin Gulf
resolution. When I came to the Senate, you couldn’t find anybody
there who thought that was a good idea. They knew it was a
terrible mistake. You had members of congress supported the
internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II.
Everybody knows that was a terrible mistake now. That day will
come when everybody will look at this and say, “What were we
AMY GOODMAN: Patrick Leahy, thanks very much for
joining us. We only have about 30 seconds. Michael Ratner,
president of Center for Constitutional Rights, your final
comment on this.
MICHAEL RATNER: This was really, as the senator said,
probably the worst piece of legislation I’ve seen in my 40-year
career as a lawyer. The idea, and even the example Senator Leahy
gave, of someone being picked up, you don’t need anything. The
President can decide tomorrow that you, Amy, or me, or
particularly a non-citizen, can be picked up, put in jail
forever, essentially, and if you're a non-citizen in Guantanamo
or anywhere else in the world, you never get a chance to go to
court to test your detention. It’s an incredible thing, and any
senator who voted for this, in my view, is essentially guilty,
guilty, guilty of undermining basic fundamental rights and may
well be guilty of war crimes, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, thanks very much for
joining us, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program,
click here for online ordering or call 1 (888) 999-3877.
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit
to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with
the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)