General Question

gooch's avatar

Why was it right for Lincoln to suspend Habaeous Corpus during the Civil War but George W Bush was not considered correct at GitMo for imprisoning terrorist from Iraq?

Asked by gooch (5744points) February 20th, 2009 from iPhone
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20 Answers

laureth's avatar

The Constitution specifies how the President may suspend Habeas Corpus. However, this time around, Bush decided he’d do an end-run around the Constitution, having the effect of suspending it in some specific instances without going through the Constitutionally mandated procedure.

mrswho's avatar

That’s a terrific question, I had wondered about that myself (though I think Bush was wrong).

Mtl_zack's avatar

The world is more interconnected now than it was during the civil war. Diplomacy between countries must be well maintained, and if Bush detained someone that wasn’t a citizen under his power, that would look bad around the international community.

In Lincoln’s case, the American civil war did not directly effect any other entity other than ones inside the United States. Also, it was a CIVIL war, so the president ruled over HIS people, not others.

Also, the winners write the history books. Lincoln was a northerner, and the north won, so the north’s opinions were the “right” opinions.

gooch's avatar

Great answer Laureth but did Loicoln address the Congress on the issue?
Mtl zack the Confederacy was another country. The Confederacy did recive support from Europe until Lincoln declated it to be a war about slavery instead of states rights. If I am not mistaken whole US and Confederacy had a total population of 37.5 million

galileogirl's avatar

Who said everything Lincoln did was right? He was a great president but he was human abd he made mistakes.

tb1570's avatar

@gooch The Confederacy was not another country. They tried to be, but in the end, failed. If the Confederacy was actually another country, the war would not be referred to as the “American Civil War.” And though the southern states tried to use the “state’s right” banner as their rationale for dissention and treason, the core issue was always slavery. In fact, they were arguing for their ability to mandate their own “rights” specifically to be able to continue the institution of slavery, period.

And if Bush had one tenth the intellect, compassion or foresight that Lincoln had, this country would not be in nearly as big a mess as it is now, also period.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

Well its important to remember, its not like everyone was all cool about him doing that. There were a lot of dissent over it just like there was when bush did it. It was a highly debated topic back then as it was today. Of course since lincoln did save the union everyone now days views him more favorably than back then.

Sorceren's avatar

@laureth — where does it specify in the Constitution that Habeas Corpus may be suspended?

It was wrong of Lincoln to suspend citizens’ rights — wrong to do many of the things he did. I’m certainly not saying Bush was perfect (either Bush), but only soldiers have rights under the Geneva Conventions. The enemy combatants certainly don’t have the legal rights citizens do. I thought he did the right thing in imprisoning them out of country; at least he got them off the battlefield and out of the way!

@tb1570 — “If the Confederacy was actually another country, the war would not be referred to as the “American Civil War.” That’s about as circular as reasoning gets. And the rest of your response shows that you’re not only not from the South, but you’ve been propagandized in the North.

Lincoln’s apologists (like everyone else on the winning side of a war) have rewritten history to the point that their guy is a god. And it’s just flat wrong: He “saved” the Union by betraying the South and traducing the Constitution. Nowhere does it say that secession is not allowed; therefore, under the 10th Amendment the Southern states — any state — had every right to secede.

Gooch, this is a very politically correctly worded question.

tb1570's avatar

@Sorceren We can agree to disagree, and clearly you’ve been “propagandized” south of the Mason-Dixon, in Dixie.
But, correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it the Confederacy who fired the first shot and began the war? How did Lincoln betray the South? The South betrayed itself by stubbornly & fastidiously clinging on to the morally apprehensible institution of slavery. And you can use all the “circular logic” you want on that one, as many Southern revisionists like to, but there is simply no way around that truth. I don’t understand why in this day & age, all these years later, many Southerners can’t just come out & say “You know what, the South was wrong.” And why do we still have to speak in terms of Northerners & Southerners? Aren’t we all Americans? We all share responsibility for the travesty of slavery. If only the Northern states wouldn’t have caved to the Southern states when we were drawing up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we could’ve put an end to slavery then (as many framers wanted to), and we could’ve avoided the whole mess to begin with. And we still wouldn’t have to be having this absolutely ridiculous argument all these years later.

Anyway, this off topic. I apologize.

laureth's avatar

Article I, Section 9, clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” For the first objection, we were facing neither rebellion nor invasion when Bush suspended this right, but Lincoln clearly had rebellion on his hands.

Lincoln made a public declaration that he was suspending Habeas Corpus. You can read it here.

When Bush suspended it, he made no such declaration. He just did it all sneaky-like, and even that was only after he was caught. In the Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush, Bush’s suspension was found unconstitutional. You can read Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, Souter’s concurrence, and Scalia’s dissent in the Wiki article.

What it all hinges on is the Constitutionality of the Military Commissions act of 2006. This is the legislation that Bush rammed through Congress that allowed him to do pretty much whatever he wanted. In this case, one of the things he did was suspend Habeas Corpus for people already detained, which is an ex post facto law (a law that criminalizes something retroactively). It also defined “enemy combatant” far too broadly, to the point where (as one example states), if you had ever donated money to an orphanage in Afghanistan, the President could have hauled you in as an enemy combatant.

You can read more about the differences in Lincoln’s and Bush’s treatment of Habeas Corpus here.

In short, Lincoln had a clear reason and performed transparently and according to the Constitution. Bush did not meet the Constitutional criteria of “rebellion or invasion” (many of the Gitmo detainees were not even arrested on U.S. soil) and did so pretty obscurely and far too broadly.

alive's avatar

this is a good question, but very complicated.
1) others who mention that not everything lincoln did was good are certainly right. his decision to suspend habeus corpus can be criticized as well.

2) the fact that gitmo held international prisoners also plays a role. bush did not follow international protocol. (a different example is if we imprison an undocumented mexican, they have the right to seek help from their own government.) OR if a US citizen is arrested in another country chances are they will have more rights than a citizen of that country who was arrested for the same crime. sometimes they will even have the right to be transferred to an American holding facility.

3) our world has changed a lot since the civil war. esp. “universal human rights,” which was not a concept back during the civil war. you cannot just silence a person and hold them indefinitely.

4) also, not all the people were “terrorists,” nor were they all from Iraq. they never got any sort of a trial so we cannot assume that just because they were captives they were plotting against the US.

5) something else to think about is the location of gitmo! it is not even on US soil, and the press did not have access to it to show what types of tactics were being used. i mean it seems pretty suspicious to me that we have a prison complex in a country that we don’t permit trade or travel with…

all and all git’mo, not cool.

laureth's avatar

I’m not sure what Lincoln did was right, but it was technically correct.

lataylor's avatar

Enemy combatents are not citizens of the United States and tehrefore are not subject to rights under The Constitution. Also, those in Gitmo are not members of a organized military and are not fighting under an organized war and therefore are not subject to the rights of the Geneva Convention

laureth's avatar

Yep, that’s definitely the weaselly perspective that BushCo used when justifying the Gitmo holding tank. Didn’t hold water in the Supreme Court, though.

lataylor's avatar

Yeah, FDR was a “weaselly” (is that really the correct spelling) guy too….

laureth's avatar

It does appear to be the correct spelling, but thanks for asking.

You also forgot to add, ’...and they aren’t being held on American soil, either, so they don’t get rights like the rest of us.”

proXXi's avatar

Poor terrorists, they’re people too..

proXXi's avatar


The civil war era was a different time. Doing something that’s morally as opposed to technically correct isn’t as understood as it used to be.

@lataylor said:

“Enemy combatents are not citizens of the United States and tehrefore are not subject to rights under The Constitution. Also, those in Gitmo are not members of a organized military and are not fighting under an organized war and therefore are not subject to the rights of the Geneva Convention”

Those terrorists chose their ‘status’ so they in effect chose their mode and location of processing.

(darned facts always getting in the way)

galileogirl's avatar

In the final analysis, we should learn from the mistakes of the past-not keep repeating them

proXXi's avatar

In the final analysis, they should learn from the mistakes of the past-not repeating them.

Their wasting away in a legal and political limbo should teach their kind, right?

It’s no different than how one should consider the consequences of any illegal act: ”anything could happen to me as a result.

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