Rep. Dennis Kucinich was the crowd favorite. The difference in the atmosphere during his five minutes on stage was unreal. Fellow presidential candidate Senator Dodd did not even do as well. Kucinich was swarmed by a small mob as he tried to hurry off to a House vote. He managed to answer a few questions and shake hands on the run and out the car window.
After the rally, we split up to lobby our Senators and Representatives. My first stop was Senator Lugar's office. We had an appointment with a member of Lugar's staff named Joe O'Donnell. O'Donnell offered us nearly 45 minutes of his time to discuss our concerns about habeas corpus. We primarily focussed on the Military Commissions Act, which Senator Lugar voted in favor of.
O'Donnell explained that a small group in the Senate formed the bill to establish a system to handle potential enemies who are not U.S. citizens but do not fall under the code for handling POWs. He said that the "subsection" that created the bill felt that it was "in line with American values." He assured us that it was passed with good intentions.
While it may have been passed with good intentions, this bill is not in line with American values. The Declaration of Independence, the foundation of American values, states that all people are created equal and "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." The Constitution grants those rights to U.S. citizens, but not necessarily to foreign nationals detained by the U.S. This has allowed Congress to pass a bill that does not provide habeas corpus for detainees. For detainment, interogation and prosecution of foreign nationals to be in line with American values, it must provide detainees with these rights.
America takes pride in its justice system, considering it the best in the world. The Senate showed no faith in this tested system by passing this bill. We ask Senator Lugar why habeas corpus is not granted to these "enemy combatants." We see no reason why the same system we use for American citizens will not work for foreign civilian detainees. We have yet to get an answer to this question from Senator Lugar's office.
By chance, on our way out of Senator Lugar's office, he happened to be doing an interview with the press about his recent Iraq speech in the hall. We were able to get a quick word with him and make our presence known in person. On closing Guantanamo Bay, he said he thinks the President is "about headed in that direction." We hope to hear more answers from him on the military commissions and habeas corpus issue inthe coming weeks.
After a failed attempt for a meeting at Senator Bayh's office, we met with Congressman Brad Ellsworth of Indiana's Eighth District. While none of his constituents were present, he still took the time to meet with eight of us from other districts in his state to discuss this issue. He told us, "to sieze someone and hide them... without representation goes against everything I believe and feel." He expressed the intent to balance defense with a just system, saying "I have full faith in our... system." On providing due process for all detainees, he said, "we are on the same page."
We finished the day at the office of Congresswoman Julia Carson. Most of the House was in committee meetings, so we met with her Chief of Staff, Len Sistek. One issue I had had with Julia Carson was that, while she usually voted the right way on issues like this, I did not see her taking much of a leadership role. This has now changed. She co-sponsored two of the bills which have been proposed to restore habeas corpus. It has now become a major priority for her.
Mr. Sistek seemed confident that the bills would go through and habeas corpus could be restored for all within the next few months. When asked about a possible Bush veto, he said a signing statement might be more likely. He said that habeas "is affecting citizens as well" as foreigners. You can be held because you have been mistaken as an enemy combatant, and under the Military Commissions Act, you could be kept from you family and unable to defend your case for a very long period of time.
We also had many questions for Sistek about the possibility of impeachment. He suggested that Kucinich's current impeachment plan is premature. Vice President Cheney will be evasive and able to slip past it. More evidence is necessary to accomplish impeachment correctly, and when the time is right, Carson will likely be on board. That is "what a really seasoned prosecutor would do."
We asked Len Sistek what we can do to help tackle these issues. He urged us that to "educate other people" is the best thing we can do.
The day was a huge success. The Senator and representatives were impressed by our numbers and enthusiasm, as well as the fact that we travelled 12 hours on a bus in the middle of the week to meet with them. At the end of the day, Jeff Mittman of the ACLU reported that Senators informed him legislation would be moving through in the next few weeks.
Submitted by Douglass.