The basis for American freedom and democracy is under threat. On Tuesday, November 15, the US Senate unanimously voted to undermine the right of habeas corpus, the basic right that protects us all against arbitrary detention and torture. The attack on this basic right is contained in an amendment to the Defense appropriation bill, due to be considered by a House-Senate conferee committee in early December.

The right of habeas corpus is acknowledged to be the fundamental building-block of democracy. As firmly enshrined in our Constitution, it ensures that the government must defend in court why it has detained anyone and that the detention is in accord with the Bill of Rights. That is, such persons must be indicted for a crime, have access to a lawyer, and be tried by a jury of their peers. Without habeas corpus, any one of us can be “disappeared,” detained without charge at the government's whim, and held forever without hope of release.

We condemn in the strongest terms this attempt to destroy the rights of Americans, as well as to cover up the continued torture and abuse of detainees. We urge everyone to call their Senators and Representatives to demand that they either strip this “Graham-Levin amendment” out of the Defense bill, or vote to defeat the bill itself, if after conference it still contains this abhorrent attack on rights. We call on local civil-rights and peace groups to organize protests defending the fundamental right of habeas corpus.


We have long warned that detaining tens of thousands of immigrants without charge constitutes not only an injustice but an impending threat to the rights of all Americans. This amendment confirms that warning, implicitly threatening to destroy the basic democratic rights and freedoms of all of us.

The Graham-Levin amendment appears to deny habeas corpus to only a few people called "enemy combatants" and "held by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay Cuba." Yet ANY of the 10% of the US population who are non-citizens may be designated “enemy combatants,” seized by the government right here, right now, and transferred to Guantanamo under this legislation, which forbids any US court, even the Supreme Court, from hearing his or her habeas appeal. In addition, nothing now prevents citizens from being designated "enemy combatants" by a flick of the President's pen, and thus becoming subject to the same arbitrary imprisonment. Proving this intent is the case of Jose Padilla, a native-born US citizen, who was so declared and held without charge for three years. Only the threat of an appeal to the Supreme Court recently moved the Justice Department to charge him.

The Graham-Levin amendment would also erase any such possibility of appeal. While it purports to give Guantanamo detainees limited appeal rights to a federal court, such appeal is limited to cases that have first been “reviewed” by the authorities, with no time-limit placed on such review. Under this proposed legislation, merely declining to review a detainee's status would enable the government to detain anyone forever!

The Graham-Levin amendment is also utterly unconstitutional in suspending the right of habeas corpus without an “invasion or rebellion” that disrupts the function of the regular courts (Supreme Court, ex-parte Milligan [1866]). Given a fully functioning court system, it appears to be the intent of this amendment to flout this long-defined guarantee of the Constitution.

The Graham-Levin amendment, in also promising the complete cover-up of all torture, could be defined in itself as a War Crime. It will make it impossible to appeal for release on the grounds of torture, a human right now guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. government would have blanket permission to do what it likes to Guantanamo prisoners—who, again, could be ANYONE—without such conduct ever coming to the light of day, in violation of every US and international law prohibiting denial of such guaranteed rights.

The Graham-Levin amendment thus puts into the hands of the President of the United States the ultimate dictatorial weapon of any police state—the authority to detain anyone, to hold them for life, and to torture them without limit. This power undermines every right, for who will speak freely or assemble to protest, knowing that at a word from the President they can be condemned without charge or trial to a life of torture?

Defend Habeas Corpus!
Help Defeat Graham-Levin!

Please sign this statement and email to copies of your letters to your Senators and Representatives!

New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee
New Jersey Workers Democracy Network
Bill of Rights Defense Committee