Hospitals & Asylums
By Anthony J. Sanders
Four thousand Americans traveled from across the nation to Capitol Hill to demand that Congress restore due process rights, and the rule of law as enshrined in the Constitution. Nearly twice the twenty five hundred expected. Over eighty organizations, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, came together to organize a rally and lobby visits to Congress on the annual International Day in Support of Victims of Torture that is commemorated on 26 June for the eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which entered into force on 26 June 1987. In addition to the rally, attendees at the Day of Action to Restore Law & Justice delivered over 250,000 petition signatures to Washington lawmakers, urging them to:
1. Restore habeas corpus and
2. Pass the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.
3. End torture and abuse in secret prisons.
4. Stop extraordinary rendition: secretly kidnapping people and sending them to countries that torture.
5. Close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and give those held currently access to justice.
6. Investigate wrongdoing and ensure those who broke the law are held accountable.
7. Return to the rule of law.
The free bus ride to Washington was successful in bringing more than a thousand people from all parts of the country. I was the first to arrive at the Wal-mart parking lot across the street from Tri-county mall. I arrived a minute before the bus pulled up to where I was walking. After the hydraulics let the bus down the door opened and the bus driver, “Frank”, introduced himself. We left 15 minutes late while we waited for a man who was driving 3 hours from Ashland, Kentucky who had been pulled over for speeding. There were only 6 passengers from Cincinnati. Three of them were teenage girls who sang 60s songs in perfect harmony.
It was a short trip to another Wal-mart in Columbus. While there the group captain got on board and we learned that we needed to go to Cleveland to pick up more people. The bus driver agreed to the longer trip although it meant fourteen hours behind the wheel instead of eleven. At the ACLU office in Cleveland the bus filled up. The rest of the trip was in the middle of the night. I had the room to stretch my legs and slept until a rest stop at 6 am in Pennsylvania. At this rest stop there was a sign that told how in 1919 Eisenhower and his army convoy took 62 days to travel from DC to San Francisco. This trip led to his future commitment as President of the United States, to the Highway fund that constructed our current system of roads.
By 10 am we were passing through the woods surrounding DC on a route that followed the Potomac. This area was very scenic and lush green. It was not clear if the woods were virgin, but the trees were very tall. The Potomac was dramatic with numerous bridges and bike paths. As we neared DC there were modern headquarters for corporations and as we approached the center these buildings turned into ministerial buildings done in classical architectural style. The streets by the capital building are restricted to bus traffic. We made our way instead to Union Station across the Mall from the House of Congress. We disembarked in a third floor-parking garage. A guide in a green ACLU tee shirt boarded the bus and told us, “We are here to restore law and justice. You will be given white tee shirts and a granola bar”.
I changed into the white ACLU tee shirt and returned my old shirt to the bus while munching on a granola bar. I took the second group going to Union Station from the garage, after resolving to separate from the rest of the bus. The guide pointed us to the capital building and told us, “The park is half way to the capital. People interested in lobbying would be invited by state, after the speeches. The schedule is 1-3 pm with the Senators and 3-5 pm with Congress members. The buses leave at 5:30 pm”.
I ventured out on my own. Two blocks down there were Latinos pouring concrete where the NGO booths began. I gathered some information from Amnesty and other groups. I then walked to the stage directly across the street from the capital building. I sat down on a bench in the shade by the speaker’s platform and media accreditation table to write about the journey and be prepared to take notes on the speeches.
A cheerful man in a blue button down shirt and magenta tie was talking with a woman at the media sign in table. I began writing. The man whom I thought had some hidden sorrow underneath his cheerful demeanor introduced himself to me, “Hi, I’m Anthony Romero.” I shook his hand and responded, “I’m Anthony Sanders.” It was a great honor to shake the hand of the Executive Director of the ACLU and being preoccupied with my writing did not think to ask him permission to use his name in my July 4th edition of Attorney General Ethics, before he continued on his way without breaking stride.
Walter Sullivan, a retired Catholic Bishop from Virginia opened the speakers with a prayer at around 11 am. “There are many people here with a common desire for the nation to end torture and stop denying habeas corpus. O God you created this world so intricately that scientists have taken millennium to understand it. We meet here with tears in our eyes because people are being denied ancient habeas corpus rights. O God we want a world where everyone is treated with compassion, even our enemies, with dignity and justice”.
Anthony D. Romero introduced Carolyn Fredericks, ACLU legislative director. She said, “It is a fabulous day. Thanks for coming. Lobbying is more effective when thousands of people are assembled. Senator Leahy is a friend of the Constitution, he is fighting to restore habeas corpus protections. We have removed this check on the legal system, it is wrong and unconstitutional.”
Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt) Chairman of the Judiciary Committee took the podium and said, “I am proud to be an American and I look forward to the day when we will uphold the Constitution again. The rule of law has been taken from us. Let us restore it. Congress made a mistake last year with the Military Commissions Act. We must restore habeas corpus and close Guantanamo. Today is a day of action to restore law and justice. We cannot live in fear. We did not protect the Japanese from internment in WWII and created a stain on our history. Habeas corpus let’s us go to court to contest our charges. The Military Commissions Act denies this right to foreigners accused of being enemy combatants. This is un-American. Restore America to America”.
Anthony Romero announced, “We have 250,000 petitions addressed to the House and Senate. We have lived through dark times these past six years. Looking at this crowd we cannot help but feel that the pendulum is going to swing back the other way. We have people from every state of the Union. Habeas corpus must be restored, it is illegal and immoral to hold people without charge. Guantanamo must be closed and special renditions to countries likely to torture need to stop. We joined together because we cannot let fear override our rights”.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said, “Thanks for being here. I am the leader of the bill to close Guantanamo. We don’t need Patriot Acts, we need patriots to stand up to the White House, to tell them no, we won’t torture. My bill will settle the legal status of Guantanamo detainees. Years ago, as a legislative assistant, I played a role closing a similar detention center on an island outside of Vietnam where Vietnamese were tortured without the protection of habeas corpus or the Geneva Conventions. In both cases detainees were deprived of their rights and were not tried as Prisoners of War to deny them the protection of the Geneva Conventions. This is not upholding the values we hold other nations to. The solution is to the tear down that prison.”
Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-8th) of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties stated, “ It is not a pleasure to restore what we always had. Let’s restore liberty. We pioneered liberty under law. We always had flaws. In most of our wars we trampled on civil liberties. During the War on Terror we have abolished habeas corpus. The president can designate you an enemy combatant and jail you forever. No English speaking executive has claimed such power since the Magna Carta was signed 800 years ago, whereby the even the King does not have the power to hold people without charge. One of the dastardly actions justifying revolution in the Declaration of Independence was the deprivation of the right to a jury trial. George II is worse because we have no recourse to justice. There is nothing more important. Nobody can hold people without due process. We must restore habeas corpus and kick out the ignoramuses”.
Larry Cox of Amnesty USA said, “Thank you. Amnesty has worked for forty years to protect people from arbitrary detention and torture. The past six years have been a slump. We will never accept a war on terror that has become a war on human rights. We demand Congress fix the Military Commissions Act. We need a US that is free. The US flag has been flown at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. We want it back. We want a nation that aspires to honor the pledge of liberty and justice for all”.
Deavid Kean, Chair of the American Conservative Union spoke, “I am here today because as a conservative I feel our nation is the greatest and I want our children to say the same. As citizens we need realistic methods to protect ourselves. Our right must survive. No right is more important than being free from arbitrary detention. We must remind our leaders what it is they are fighting to defend”.
Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-10th) said, “In the long constitutional history of our country we are at a moment when we are called upon to defend the letter of the constitution. The document has been under assault, which is why I introduced articles of impeachment. Our criminal justice system has been trampled and we must restore habeas corpus. We recognize that to save our constitution we must challenge this administration”.
Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn) said, “You are patriots. There is no more patriotic act than to defend the constitution. The constitution is there to defend us. Habeas corpus, Geneva Conventions and ban on torture need to be restored. America must get back on its feet again”.
The speaker of the Religious Campaign Against Torture that was founded in 2006 quoted, “De’Toqueville said, ‘America is great because America is good. If America ceases to be good it will cease to be great’. The religious community has decided that torture is a moral issue. Governments are not behaving well when habeas corpus is denied, when they send people to nations where they face torture. If we want our great nation we must work to ensure a good one. Respect, dignity and fairness are important”.
In conclusion Reverend Lennux Yearwood spoke on behalf of the Hip Hop Caucus. He said, “If you want to restore habeas corpus make some noise. I came here because I’m looking for something that got lost. I’m looking for habeas. We are in a state of emergency. To overcome the vicious forces we must come together as human beings fighting for justice. The reason that the hop hop community is here is because if we don’t stand up there will be no 22nd century. I am happy to see blacks, whites and Asians stand up for habeas. Our parents had Jim Crowe. We are fighting something more insidious that I call Jim Crowe Jr. Esq. We’re not going to forget it. Stop torture now, restore habeas corpus so that we can say, like Martin Luther King Jr. ‘ free at last, free at last, thank God I am free at last’”.
This trip was much more peaceful than the Freedom Riders who rode interstate buses into the segregated south to test the decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) 364 US. The first Freedom Ride left Washington DC on May 4, 1961, and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17, riders were however arrested for trespassing, unlawful assembly, violating state and local Jim Crow laws, etc, many were severely beaten by mobs, and they never made it. Although more peaceful the spirit of this Day of Action was however the same. People rode free buses to Washington DC to encourage Congress to restore the rule of law, habeas corpus and the constitution. Although the mob violence is not so bad the government has backslid from discrimination and segregation to outright slavery.
After the speeches ended at noon people organized by state to lobby Congress. Led by a green shirt guide, people from Ohio first went to the Hart Senate Building to visit Senator Voinovich in his glass walled office. The line out the door took more than half an hour to clear security. One girl was treated for heat stroke inside, near the door. As the result of the long lines the legislative assistant who had scheduled a moment to meet with us had to go to a hearing on immigration and another had to be found. After fifteen minutes Matt Ortman met with us at a table and heard our pleas for Congress to pass the Restore Habeas Corpus Act and Restoring the Constitution Act.
We then walked through the basement to the Russell Senate Building to speak with freshman Senator Sherrod Brown. Freshman Senators do not get such nice offices and he had to share his small lobby with a half dozen other freshman Senators. A legislative assistant, Caroline Wells, led us to an open space in the hallway to hear our petition for the sponsorship of the restoration laws. We were then directed to visit our local Congress people Rep. Chabot had however scheduled a visit at 5 pm and my bus left at 5:30 pm so I decided to let a friend who drove himself to the rally represent our interests.
The bills supported by this Day of Action are Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 S. 576 and HR 1415 and the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 S.185, that is sponsored by Sen. Brown, H.R.267, H.R.1189, H.R. 2543 and H.R.1416. All of these bills are trying to repeal the denial of the privilege of habeas corpus to people alleged to be enemy combatants as the result of the signing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, S. 3930, on October 17, by the President. This bill was immediately denounced by human rights organizations. When I read it I found that it needed to be repealed from section 5 on because the amendments depriving detainees of the writ of habeas corpus were an unconstitutional, cruel and unusual rebellion against the decision of the US Supreme Court in Rasul v. Bush No. 03-334 (2004) that found detainees at Guantanamo did indeed have a right to challenge the legality of their detention in federal court resulting in the release of more than two hundred prisoners.
The fight for habeas corpus rights does not end with the passage of these bills making the Military Commissions Act acceptable. The closure of Guantanamo is only the beginning of our nation’s fight to enjoy the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. For nearly three decades, since 1984, the United States has languished under mandatory minimum sentencing rules that overturned the basis of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, that the legislature would set forth the maximum sentence a court could issue for a crime. These laws forced judges to issue harsh mandatory minimum sentences for crimes such as the possession of crack cocaine, that they would normally have let go free or after a couple of days in the slammer. The prison system has quintupled since this began and continues to grow. The judiciary is unsafe for petitioners and true to the XIII Amendment to the Constitution Congress must be sought to regulate slavery.
In 2004 the ABA Kennedy Commission admitted that the US had the most prisoners of any nation in the world and that measures would need to be taken to redress this problem. In Blakely v. Washington No. 02-1632 of June 24, 2004 the Court eliminated sentencing guidelines schemes. Sentences imposed under such guidelines in cases currently pending on direct appeal, or in cold habeas petitions, are in jeopardy. In both legislative and litigate practice Criminal sentences must be adjusted downward rather upward, mandatory minimum schemes eliminated and acquittals the norm for most crimes where there are significant mitigating factors. USA v. Booker J. & Fanfan No. 04-104-105 (2005) provides for the wholesale release of people convicted for drugs. These two decisions were however Rehnquist’s apology. Robert’s Court has not continued these sweeping reforms and protected by a violent reaction against freedom by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez the prison population has continued to grow.
Art. I Sec. 9 Clause 2 of the US Constitution says, “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” The Military Commissions Act is the tip of the iceberg in regards to the abuse of habeas corpus. Congress has clearly abused their power to suspend habeas corpus and must make amends. The Constitution makes it clear that the government must justify their detention in terms of public safety, even in times of war. The President cannot arbitrarily designate people enemy combatants when it is not the case nor can he strip them of the Geneva Conventions that basically provides that prisoners of war shall be released after the cessation of hostilities as long as they are not adjudicated of any war crimes.
The Day of Action in Washington DC challenges the nation to restore habeas corpus. It is a great challenge. The US must close Guantamo, try the prisoners of war, release the innocent and the law abiding combatants and detain the terrorist threats, in regular prisons with regular sentences that suit their crimes. As a basic legal principle the US Congress must uphold the Supreme Court in regards to freedom. Congress cannot trample upon the only good judicial decision of the decade and expect to foster legitimate government. Congress must repeal the Military Commissions Act, at least the provisions from Section 5 onward that infringe upon the writ of habeas corpus. Congress must enforce freedom in bills like the Second Chance Act of 2005 H.R.1704, so that the prison population will go down.
1. American Bar Association Kennedy Commission. June 23, 2004
2. American Civil Liberties Union. Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice. 26 June 2007
3. Arsenault, Raymong. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Oxford University Press. 2006
4. Blakely v. Washington No. 02-1632 June 24, 2004
5. Boynton v. Virginia 364 US (1960)
7. Military Commissions Act of 2006 S. 3930, signed October 17
8. Rasul v. Bush No. 03-334 (2004)
10. Second Chance Act of 2005 H.R.1704
11. UN Chronicle E-Alert. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. No. 6. 26 June 2007
12. USA v. Booker J. & Fanfan No. 04-104-105 (2005)