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Posted April 25, 2007

Students Participate in Campaign for Habeas Rights for Detainees

Gabe Walters and Rachel Cella

Law students Gabe Walters and Rachel Cella asked students to sign letters to congressmen protesting the lack of habeas rights for Guantanamo detainees.

Students at Virginia Law and across the country today began two days of action calling for the restoration of habeas corpus and fair hearings for the almost 400 detainees who remain at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The campaign was organized by law students and coordinated by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a nonprofit organization that represents many of the detainees at Guantanamo and coordinates the work of nearly 500 pro bono attorneys.

Habeas corpus is the legal procedure that keeps the government from holding prisoners indefinitely without showing cause. The U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006 effectively stripped the Guantanamo detainees of their right to challenge their detention, despite two Supreme Court rulings affirming their right to habeas corpus, organizers of the protest said.

At the Law School, students kicked off a two-day letter-writing campaign April 25 in Hunton & Williams Hall, urging key members of Congress to support habeas restoration.

“The habeas-stripping provisions of the Military Commissions Act run afoul of our nation’s strongest virtue—our commitment to the rule of law,” said third-year law student Rachel Cella, who helped organize the event, which is also sponsored by the Human Rights Program. 

Participating students include representatives from American University; Dartmouth College; DePaul University; Harvard University; a coalition of students from New York City law schools including the City University of New York and New York University; the University of California-Berkeley; and other schools around the country. The planned actions range from 48-hour sit-ins to call-in and letter-writing campaigns to congressional representatives. The campaign was timed to coincide with Congress’s plans to consider several bills that would restore the right of habeas corpus to the Guantanamo detainees.

“It is a moral disgrace that we would deny the fundamental right to habeas corpus to anyone,” said CCR attorney Emi MacLean in a written statement. “We need to bring habeas corpus back—for the future of our country and for the people who have been detained without fair hearings and due process for over five years in Guantanamo.”