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Senate Rejects Habeas Corpus in Interrogation Bill

The Senate passed a bill Thursday on the prosecution and interrogation of suspected terrorists, rejecting an amendment that would have allowed the suspects to challenge their detention in court. Experts discuss this and other aspects of the legislation.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent:

    That warning comes from Republican Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He believes that new military tribunal legislation that has moved through Congress contains a grievous error: It limits habeas corpus, the right that terror suspects would have to challenge the legality of their imprisonment in court.

    Senator Specter insists that that is clearly unconstitutional, and he says it's only a matter of time before the Supreme Court agrees with him.

    Here to debate Specter's concerns and other aspects of the bill are David Rivkin. He's an attorney who previously served in the administrations of President Reagan and the first President Bush.

    And Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan.

    Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.

  • BRUCE FEIN, Former Associate Deputy Attorney General:

    Thank you.

    DAVID RIVKIN, Attorney, Reagan and George H.W. Bush Administrations: Good to be with you.


    David Rivkin, to you first. Before we discuss the merits, I want to clarify: Who is covered exactly under this legislation and under what circumstances?


    This legislation is a comprehensive system regulating all aspects of dealing, capturing detainees, interrogating, prosecuting unlawful enemy combatants. We're basically talking about people who engage in hostilities against the United States, very important, Judy. They're not just terrorists.

    They're individuals who are affiliated with organizations in a state of armed conflict against the United States, al-Qaida and Taliban, and that definition largely tracks customary international law and definitions existent in prior U.S. cases, including a World War II case involving German saboteurs.


    You're saying they're not just enemy combatants? Did I hear you say that?


    Yes, they have to be unlawful enemy combatants to be tried by military commissions. These are combatants who do not follow the four key requirements: do not wear a uniform; do not bear arms openly; do not make a commitment to comply with the laws and customs of a war.

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