Senate rejects detainee challenge plan

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(Host) The United States Senate has rejected a plan by Senator Patrick Leahy to allow military detainees to challenge their detention in federal court.

Leahy says he’s concerned that Congress is legislating out of fear, and depriving some individuals of their basic legal rights.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Leahy’s plan actually has the support of a majority of senators but he was unable to gain enough votes to block a filibuster of the legislation. Fifty six senators voted to bring the bill to the floor for a vote – 60 are needed to stop a filibuster.

Leahy says the bill re-establishes a core legal principle for people who are being held as military detainees.

He’s concerned that the policy of denying these individuals an opportunity to challenge their detention in court could have severe ramifications:

(Leahy)" I think it’s a bad mistake you know what’s going to happen is you’re going to have somebody who’s legally here a professor at a university for example who gets picked up because they made a mistake on his name and he’s going to be put behind locked doors he’s not going to be able to go to anybody and say will you at least look at see if you’ve got the right name."

(Kinzel) Opponents of Leahy’s bill argued that the legislation would tie up the nation’s legal system by providing benefits to some of this country’s harshest enemies. Leahy says this argument has no merit at all:

(Leahy) "This has nothing to do with trials or the merits all it is, it allows you to say I think you got the wrong person I want to know at least what I’m being charged with so I can prepare a defense then you go to your trial. This is really what U.S. jurisprudence has been based on over the centuries."

(Kinzel) Leahy says it should be possible to fight an effective war on terrorism while maintaining the basic framework of the U.S. legal system:

(Leahy) "What it’s going to show the rest of the world is not the best face of America – in many ways it’s similar to what we did in World War Two – legislated out of fear and locked up Japanese Americans.

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’ll continue to fight for the passage of this law – he’s optimistic that more senators will join the effort in the coming months.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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