What is the right of habeas corpus in the context of the War on Terror?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The right of habeas corpus is, generally speaking, the right of a person who is detained by the government to have his or her detention evaluated to see if it is legal.  In other words, a person who is detained may generally appeal to a judge to determine if the government has the right to hold them.  This right is important because it forces the government to charge the person with a crime rather than holding them indefinitely without trial.

In the War on Terror, this issue has become very controversial.  The government has claimed that habeas corpus does not apply to people deemed to be “enemy combatants.”  Many such people have been held for over a decade without the chance to be put on trial.  This brings up many legal issues.  It requires us to think about whether the president can, as commander-in-chief, declare that some people do not have the right to habeas corpus.  It requires us to think about whether we have any feasible way to try foreign terrorists in the American civilian legal system. 

The right of habeas corpus is relevant to the War on Terror because there are fundamental tensions involved in this war.  There is a tension between our need to keep suspected foreign terrorists from hurting us and our need to follow the rule of law, of which habeas corpus is an important part.