Habeas corpus

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Guantanamo Bay has been a black hole for civil liberties, and last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this must change. Finally!


The Bush government began using the Guantanamo Bay facilities in 2002 to detain people suspected of being terrorists. The whole affair was a legal gray area. So in 2006 Congress passed a law, backed by current presidential candidate John McCain, which stripped Guantanamo Bay inmates of the right to file so-called habeas corpus petitions in U.S. courts. Habeas corpus is the „great writ“ that protects individual freedom against arbitrary state detention. On June 12, 2008 the court invalidated that law. The court’s majority opinion, in a rebuke to the Bush administration and Congress, held that inmates at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay are protected by the Constitution and may seek release in federal court. As a result of this court decision, inmates will certainly begin petitioning the government for release, and the process will not be easy for the U.S.

Now, both McCain and Obama want to close Guantanamo Bay. But their very different way of reacting to the decision by the court shows how very different they would be as presidents. McCain criticized the ruling, saying, “These are people who are not citizens; they do not have and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have. … There are some bad people down there.” Obama, by contrast, said, “This is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus. Our courts have employed habeas corpus with rigor and fairness for more than two centuries, and we must continue to do so as we defend the freedom that violent extremists seek to destroy.” (International Herald Tribune)

Exactly. So the clean-up job after the Bush Administration is going to be quite painful, but a much-needed series of democratic rituals, at the end of which we can hope to be a stronger democracy than before.

I’ve just finished reading Siri Hustvedt’sThe Sorrows of an American”, a remarkable, intensely personal and moving and sometimes incredibly funny novel that tells how a psychiatrist and his extended family deal with loss and trauma and manage to heal. Definitely worth reading! Hustvedt has inscribed her novel with a quote by the Persian mystic Rumi:

“Don’t turn away.
Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That’s where the light enters you.”

That could be our national motto for the process we face.


Siri Hustvedt, DN.no

  • News analysis in International Herald Tribune
  • Listen to Siri Hustvedt talk about “The Sorrows of an American”, including her father’s memoir, which she has woven in as one of the many layers of her marvellous novel. Radio interview on MPR (audio, about 30 min)

Learning the ropes – Vokabeln der Woche

civil liberties – Bürgerrechte
Supreme Court – Oberster Gerichtshof
to rule – entscheiden, Urteil fällen
to detain – festnehmen
suspected of being … – als … verdächtigt werden
legal gray area – rechtliche Grauzone
to pass a law – ein Gesetz erlassen
to back – befürworten, unterstützen
current – derzeitig
to strip someone of his/her rights – entrechten
“great writ” – (formell) großer Erlass
to protect against – schützen vor
arbitrary state detention – willkürliche Festnahme durch den Staat
to invalidate a law – Gesetz außer Kraft setzen
majority opinion
rebuke – Verweis erteilen
to hold – befinden, entscheiden
inmate – Insasse
to seek release – Entlassung ersuchen
federal court – Gericht auf nationaler Ebene
court decision
to petition for
ersuchen, beantragen
by contrast – dagegen
to re-establish
to be committed to – hinter etwas stehen
the rule of law – Rechtsstaatlichkeit
to reject
to seek to destroy – versuchen zu zerstören
to inscribe
widmen, beschriften
to turn away – sich abwenden
bandaged – mit einem Verband versehen

Learning English tip of the week

How about reading a book in English? Or try an audio book. The Digital Publishing series of audio books has CD-ROMs that include interactive support. This is a good way in. And then try a short novel or collection of short stories by an author you have read in your native language. Don’t take a book whose language has been simplified – read the original text. Just read a shorter selection.

Picture of red sky: Rolf van Melis, www.pixelio.de


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