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Bid to Give Detainees Right to Appeal Falls Short

This file photo from April 24 shows the outer fence and a guard tower at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Senate on Wednesday failed to pass a measure restoring detainees' habeas corpus rights.
Paul J. Richards
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AFP/Getty Images
This file photo from April 24 shows the outer fence and a guard tower at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Senate on Wednesday failed to pass a measure restoring detainees' habeas corpus rights.

The Senate on Wednesday voted against legislation that would have given Guantanamo detainees and other terrorism suspects the right to challenge their detentions in federal court.

The 56-43 vote fell four shy of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate on the bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, and Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter.

The defeat was a blow to human rights groups that say a current ban on habeas corpus petitions could lead to the indefinite detention of individuals wrongfully suspected of terrorism.

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President Bush and conservative Republicans have said the ban, which was enacted last year, was necessary to stem the tide of legal challenges that were flooding civilian courts.

Six Republican senators were among those who favored expanding detainees' rights. Leahy said he would try again to repeal the ban, although he said he was not sure when he would get another chance.

"The truth is that casting aside the time-honored protection of habeas corpus makes us more vulnerable as a nation because it leads us away from our core American values," Leahy said. "It calls into question our historic role as a defender of human rights around the world."

In 2006, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act, which established a military-run tribunal system for prosecuting enemy combatants. The provision bars habeas corpus petitions, which means that only detainees selected for trial are able to confront charges against them. That leaves most military detainees in custody without a chance to plead their case.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was one of the architects of the ban, said the system includes checks and balances to determine whether a person is being held unlawfully.

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In June, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether the ban is constitutional, although no date for arguments has been set.

Specter, the lone Republican to co-sponsor the bill, has said he anticipates the court will rule the ban unconstitutional.

Habeas corpus "is a constitutional right that has existed since the Magna Carta in 1215," Specter said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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