WASHINGTON POST — A group of Senate Democrats introduced legislation yesterday that would restore habeas corpus rights to all detainees in U.S. custody and would narrowly define what it means to be an “enemy combatant” against the United States, a measure designed to challenge laws ushered in by the Republican-controlled Congress last year.
The bill, titled the “Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007,” strikes at the core of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 by giving detainees access to U.S. courts. It was introduced by Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The bill would also prevent the executive branch from making blanket determinations about who is an enemy combatant and would restrict the president’s authority to interpret when certain human rights standards apply to detainees. The legislation would limit the label “enemy combatant” to a person “who directly participates in hostilities in a zone of active combat against the United States” or who took part in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Should such language become law, it could change the status of numerous detainees who were picked up in U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
The bill would also restore to the detainees numerous rights they lost under the Military Commissions Act, including the right, under a habeas corpus petition, to challenge their detention in federal court.
“I take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting the country from terrorists,” Dodd said in an e-mail statement yesterday. “But there is a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this. . . . In taking away their legal rights, the rights first codified in our country’s Constitution, we’re taking away our own moral compass, as well.”