Leahy warns rally of 'nightmare' detentions


Wednesday, June 27
WASHINGTON — Diane Tayeby of Brattleboro had personal reasons for attending a rally here Tuesday: she fears her Egyptian husband could disappear under the government's rendition program.

"He's always detained for several hours," while returning from foreign travel, Tayeby said. "There are too many examples in front of us for me not to worry he'll be sent to Syria" for secretive and perhaps brutal interrogation.

Guantanamo Bay

If that happened, she worries her husband, Hisham, could disappear for years, perhaps being sent to Guantanamo Bay, or a foreign ally, with limited legal means to challenge his incarceration.

"It's very personal," Tayeby said of her attendance at the rally, organized in part to support Sen. Patrick Leahy's effort to restore habeas corpus for foreign suspects largely swept up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The most prominent detainees — numbering more than 350 — are kept at the United States' naval facility at Guantanamo Bay — unable to challenge their incarceration in U.S. courts since the passage last fall of the Military Commissions Act.

Without recourse

But Leahy warned the crowd of a "nightmare scenario," in which about 12 million legal immigrants living in the U.S. could also be detained indefinitely without recourse.

Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is planning to offer his habeas restoration bill as an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill in two weeks. Leahy successfully shepherded the bill through his committee earlier this month.

If the Senate passes the measure, it would undercut a pillar of the Bush administration's policy toward enemy combatants and add pressure to the president to close the Guantanamo facility.

The legislative battle pits critics who believe the president's detention policy is eroding constitutional rights against supporters who say the U.S. legal system wasn't conceived to try international suspects captured on the battlefield with little evidence.

Habeas rights

"Like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the elimination of habeas rights was an action driven by fear and a stain on America's reputation in the world," Leahy told the crowd of perhaps several thousand.

"Future generations will look back to examine the choices we made — the choices we made during a time when security too often is used as a watchword to convince us to slacken our defense of liberty and the rule of law," he added. "This is wrong! It is unconstitutional! It is un-American!"

The rally, named "Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice," was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union. Thousands cheered Leahy and other lawmakers, including Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and presidential candidate, and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, also a White House aspirant.

Five Vermonters attended the rally, including Allen Gilbert, executive director of ACLU's Vermont chapter. All three lawmakers from the state had scheduled personal meetings with the Vermonters.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., is a cosponsor of Leahy's bill. "Both of the Vermont senators are in the lead of protecting constitutional rights," Gilbert said. "It makes you really proud to be from Vermont."


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