Back to News & Commentary

Update from Habeas: Springfield, IL

Gabe Rottman,
Legislative Counsel,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Share This Page
March 10, 2007

It was bad news for the whole country when Habeas disappeared – and things won’t be right until he’s back where he belongs, protecting every single person threatened with unlawful detention or imprisonment.Still, we were relieved, and a little surprised, when we started getting letters and emails that seem to be from Habeas. It helped remind us that he’s out there somewhere, and that we will find him. To My Friends:I don’t know what I expected to find revisiting my past, but when I realized I was heading for Abe Lincoln’s house, it made a kind of sense.Honestly, things have been a bit of a blur since late October, when Congress made it clear that I wasn’t welcome in Washington I remember the chill in the air. Then the long walk down the Mall. Maybe people noticed me, maybe they didn’t. I felt almost invisible.The next few days, I moved from town to town. On Halloween some tourists in Philadelphia handed me pieces of candy. One girl asked “Are you a Martian?” Someone else thought I was the “Nowhere Man,” from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie. I called after them “This isn’t a costume! I’m me! I’m Habeas!”But I don’t think they heard. I have to tell you, every day since October 17 has felt a little bit like Halloween. And some days I really do feel like an alien.Maybe that was the feeling that drew me back to my past, back to Lincoln. Maybe I thought there’d be answers here.President Lincoln’s Civil War suspension of habeas corpus made it legal to arrest and try Northern civilians who were against the war. He argued that “that ordinary courts of justice are inadequate to cases of rebellion.”I know he was wrong to suspend my writ. I tried to see him that awful spring, it was April then, too, actually. But he was always surrounded by generals – and he wouldn’t see me.Few scholars would tell you that Lincoln’s suspension was constitutional. History will show that President Bush’s isn’t either. But like it did in Lincoln’s day, Congress went ahead this time too—letting their fear get in the way of our laws, and our beliefs.Standing on Lincoln’s lawn, I recalled his quote “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.”For such a brilliant man, he had some conflicting ideas. We can’t deny people their freedoms, not now, not next year, not ten years from now. That just isn’t the American way—and it shouldn’t have been Lincoln’s or Bush’s either.Most of all, it shouldn’t be our way. The people want their leaders to stand up and defend freedom, especially for those who can’t defend themselves.I know it’s true. I’m sure of it. My head is clearer now than it was in the first shock of October. I’ll keep looking for answers.And I’ll stay in touch.Habeas

Learn More About the Issues on This Page