Habeas corpus. It is more than a latin term which means “you may have the body.” It is more than a simple legal action where a lawyer may request that credible charges either be presented against the accused or that they be set free.
Respect for habeas corpus is what distinguishes a free society from a totalitarian regime. Naturally, the United States of America, the great defender of freedom and liberator of the world guarantees habeas corpus to all of its citizens, right?
Wrong. With the stroke of a pen on new year’s eve, President Obama snuffed out what remained of the great flame of freedom which founded this great country.
Habeas corpus, as an idea in English law, can be traced back to the Magna Carta in 1215. In the words of what many consider to be the genesis of free society, the concept is spelled out in the following manner:
“(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.
+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.
+ (40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
It was later affirmed by an Act of the English Parliament in 1679 and reaffirmed in Amendment IV of the United States Constitution in 1791. Some would say that the recognition of and adherence to this simple legal principle by a society or government is the very definition of human liberty.
Yet for the past 11 years, the United States of America has failed to observe habeas corpus in the name of fighting terror. Beginning with the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) signed into law by George W. Bush shortly after the September 11th attacks and continuing with current President Obama’s signing of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, habeas corpus is now no longer guaranteed to US Citizens.
While there is much to be said for increased general vigilance in the wake of the atrocities which took place in New York on September 11, 2001, it is a national tragedy that the quest for increased security measures in response to these attacks has now paved the way for the threat of indefinite incarceration of every American citizen.
Benjamin Franklin best summed up the current state of affairs when he penned the following words back in 1759:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Liberty in America circa 2012 is in increasingly short supply, and the possibility exists that innocent citizens will not hear their lawyer or family claim the legal birth right of free men everywhere by asking “may I have the body?”
Do you feel any safer?