Leahy would use position to oppose Bush administration

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If Democrats gain control of the U.S. Senate in November it’s likely Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy would become chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee.

(Host) Speaking at the Vermont Law School over the weekend, Leahy said he would use his position to oppose the Bush administration, which he accused of trying to undermine the rule of law and silence its critics.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Democrats are within six seats of regaining control of the U.S. Senate in next month’s elections and with that possibility in mind, Leahy used his speech to law school students to press his view that the country faces a crisis that rivals any in its history. He says President Bush is undermining the rule of law and consolidating too much power in the Executive Branch – and doing it with the blessing of a subservient Congress.

(Leahy) “We see corrosive demagoguery dividing Americans, our country, and our political parties as we have not seen since the Civil War. We see those in power manipulate fear as a political tool. We are seeing the government turn back to the dark days of spying on Americans without judicial oversight, and those in power attacking the patriotism and the resolve of those who question their policies. The echoes of Watergate, of enemies lists, and even of Joe McCarthy all resonate darkly again in Washington as they have not for decades.”

(Zind) Leahy reserved his sharpest criticism for both the administration and the Republican controlled Congress over the recent passage of the Military Commissions Act. The law establishes procedures for dealing with terror suspects, giving the President the power to decide who is a terror suspect and to determine how detainees are interrogated.

Leahy says the most egregious part of the law denies suspects claims of habeas corpus – the right to have a court review their detention. Leahy says habeas corpus has been a cornerstone of jurisprudence since the Magna Carta in the 13th century.

(Leahy) “If the President tells us it’s our freedoms we’re fighting for, our freedoms are what the terrorists abhor. Well then, let’s not sacrifice our liberty and thereby give the terrorists a victory they could never achieve on the battlefield. Let’s stand up for our own liberties!”

(Zind) Leahy says with Congress controlled by Republicans, only the courts are acting as a check on the President’s power.

He says if he becomes head of the Senate Judiciary Committee he would use the position to demand more oversight of the administration and more careful review of the President’s judicial appointments.

Leahy is now the ranking minority member of the committee.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in South Royalton.

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