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IPFS News Link • Political Theory

Macaulay and the Ghosts of Tyranny Past, Part 2

•, by James Bovard

Macaulay hailed the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 as "the most stringent curb that ever legislation imposed on tyranny," a law that adds to "the security and happiness of every inhabitant of the realm."

A petition for a writ of habeas corpus — Latin for "produce the body" — compels government officials to bring a detained person before a judge to be either formally charged or released. Habeas corpus was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution even before the Bill of Rights was added. In 1969, the Supreme Court declared that the writ of habeas corpus is "the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action."

Macaulay provided a wonderful round-up of ghosts of tyranny past. As America celebrated the 200th anniversary of its independence, however, I assumed that stuff about habeas was as irrelevant as the flintlock muskets used at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

And then George W. Bush proved me wrong.

When President Bush promised to "rid the world of evil" a few days after the 9/11 attack, I knew America was screwed. Because dozens of bad guys hijacked airplanes on September 11, 2001, the U.S. president miraculously acquired the prerogative to arbitrarily designate and perpetually detain anyone in the world he labeled an "enemy combatant." Bush subsequently declared that he also had absolute power over "illegal non-combatants." Anyone who was suspected of supporting terrorists or violent extremists or whatever forfeited all their rights.