WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, proposed legislation late Tuesday that would give all people — American or foreign — suspected of terrorism and arrested on U.S. soil initial access to the nation’s court system.
The legislation, which has some bipartisan support, is in response to the much-debated 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, signed by President Barack Obama in December. Critics from the right and left argued the act included vague language that could allow suspected terrorists arrested in the country to be detained indefinitely without due process.
The so-called “Habeas Corpus Act” sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., and also led by Landry, attempts to clarify the debate, at least when it comes to the initial access to the courts’ system.
Landry filed legislation in December that applied only to U.S. citizens, ignoring the effects on foreigners. The legislation has sat dormant without coming up before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.
Landry called the new proposal a “montage” of different ideas pieced together to clarify the law. He noted that expanding the legislation to “all persons” was part of taking other people’s ideas in the proposal.
“I would think this is kind of the way legislation is supposed to work,” Landry said. “This issue is important to both sides of the aisle.”
The primary goal is still to prevent the potential of the executive branch detaining Americans indefinitely without “access to our federal courts,” he said.
Rigell said the intent is to “make something clear that was a bit unclear.”
“The bill is clear it applies to all persons … whether a person is a U.S. citizen or not,” Rigell said, arguing that the legislation represents a person’s basic “right as a human being.”
Rigell said he is confident the legislation has the support of the U.S. House Judiciary and the U.S. House Armed Services committees.
The Habeas Corpus Act states that “nothing” in the NDAA authorization “shall be construed to deny the availability of the writ of habeas corpus for any person who is detained in the United States” in a court pertaining to the use of military force. The act notes that the only constitutional exceptions are “when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”
But retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Hutson wrote Tuesday in The Hill publication’s congressional blog that, while Rigell’s and Landry’s bill is “well intentioned,” the NDAA does not take away anyone’s habeas corpus rights to appear before a judge.
“The problem with the NDAA is that it seeks to codify the authority of the military to ‘lawfully’ detain individuals suspected of terrorism ‘until the end of hostilities,’ ” Hutson wrote.
“… It (the government) just needs to show the judge that the individual in question was more likely than not a member or substantial supporter of al-Qaeda or an ‘associated force.’ Bottom line: the end result could mean life behind bars in a military brig without ever being charged with a crime.”