The common argument in favor of the Military Commissions Act’s restriction of habeas corpus is summed up by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist:
We don’t want (terror suspects) to have everyday rights of American civilians right here. These are war criminals.
There’s really no other argument in support of it that comes even close to sounding sane, though there are of course a plethora of rephrasings out there (such as the rhetorical “Don’t you want the government to be able to stop terrorists?”).
There are half-arguments, of course. They tend to involve phrases such as “This doesn’t apply to US citizens!” or “It’s only for enemy combatants!”
They all boil down to one simple fact: supporters are working on the assumption that, somehow, it will only apply to people who are guilty. The problem with that, of course, is that the Great Writ’s entire purpose and the whole necessity for its existence is bound up in one single, simple aim:
The Writ of Habeas Corpus exists only to ensure that we have the right guy in custody.
One must wonder why the hell the government needs to deny accused terrorists access to the courts under a Writ of Habeas Corpus if the accused are actually guilty. If they’re guilty, the court proceeding that results from the serving of such a Writ should determine that — or, more to the point, should determine whether there’s sufficient reason to even believe the accused is guilty to an extent that warrants detention and investigation.
If a Writ of Habeas Corpus leads to a decision that the accused is in fact not being held justly, the person should damned well not be held any longer! That wrongly accused person should receive an apology and a ride home. That person should never have been detained in the first place. Mistakes happen, but they are not solved by ensuring that we cannot discover whether or not a mistake has been made.
The Military Commissions Act in no way improves the ability to pursue a “war on terror” by suspending habeas corpus. All it does is sweep mistakes under the rug and ensure that those who are wronged in pursuit of the specter of security will only continue to be wronged indefinitely, and nobody can do anything about it. It seems impossible that those Senators and Representatives who voted for this, or that the President who will be signing it into law on the 17th, even for a moment considered the likelihood that they might think differently of this if they did not currently hold public office.
In short, the simple truth of the Writ of Habeas Corpus is that all it does is help sort the good guys from the bad guys, to the benefit of the good guys, and suspending it in whole or in part for those literally or effectively detained on US soil in no way benefits anyone at all except those whose errors destroy the lives of innocent bystanders and should be brought into the light of public scrutiny.