The kidnappings were staged by two Harvard student groups as part of a nationwide protest against the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The act denies the right of habeas corpus—which since 1215 has granted prisoners the power to demand legal justification for their detention—to an individual dubbed an “enemy combatant.”
The abductions were accompanied by loud and repeated megaphone blurbs from Nina M. Catalano ’08, the co-president of Harvard College Human Rights Advocates. HCRHRA organized the event with the Harvard College Democrats.
“In a world without habeas corpus, the government can detain you indefinitely without showing cause,” Catalano said. “If you are in a cell and there is no judge to hear you when you scream, do you make a sound?”
Catalano’s question will be considered today, as the United States Supreme Court convenes to hear one of the most anticipated trials of the year: Al Odah v. United States.
The case, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, builds on the landmark 2004 decision Rasul v. Bush, in which the Supreme Court declared that Guantanamo detainees could exercise habeas corpus in Federal courts. Despite the court’s ruling, the administration has passed legislation that creates obstacles to the petitions of “enemy combatants.” The current Al Odah case challenges such legislation.
Although the protest was part of a nation-wide movement, the Dems and the HCHRA found a particularly unique way to express their dissatisfaction with the Bush administration.
“We’re very excited to bring the issue to the forefront of campus dialogue in way that’s both creative and sincere,” said Jarret A. Zafran ’09, president of the Dems.
Both Harvard groups hope that the faux-kidnappings will help raise student awareness of the Al Odah case and the executive decisions leading up to it.
The communications director for the Dems, Samuel B. Novey ’11, said he thinks the issue should hit home with students because citizens of the United States are just as susceptible to being labeled “enemy combatants” as foreigners.
“The writ of habeas corpus has been a part of Western law since the Magna Carta. The Bush Administration’s disregard for the most fundamental of rights is inexcusable. If we don’t fight for habeas corpus, who will?,” Novey said.