Protesters Urge Lawmakers to Restore Detainees’ Right to a Trial


They were small in number but full of passion. They included a retired teacher, an attorney, a college student and a playwright. One thing they have in common is their disappointment with the state of judicial process in the United States since Sept. 11.

On Tuesday two dozen protesters in St. Paul signed petitions urging Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., to support Restoring the Constitution Act, a bill introduced in February by a group of Democratic senators who want to restore habeas corpus—the right to a trial after detention—for all detainees in U.S. custody.

The legislation is a direct challenge to the Military Commission Act, a law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress last year curtailing the rights of terrorism suspects in civilian courts.

“I was protesting against apartheid South Africa 20 years ago,” said Minneapolis resident Matthew Vaky, who was one of those who gathered outside Coleman’s office. “Never have I thought that I will protest against my own country for basic human rights.”

Disturbed by the torture, the indefinite detentions and the extraordinary rendition, Vaky recently wrote a play called “Jesus at Guantanamo.”

“After all, Jesus was from the Middle East,” he said. “They may well have concluded that he was a dangerous terrorist.”

Representatives from Coleman’s office briefly joined the protesters to listen in. They left after a while but never returned the response from the senator, which they had promised to do. Repeated requests for a response were not returned by Wednesday morning.

The rally was organized by the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In Washington, about 50 Minnesotans joined hundreds of protesters marking ACLU’s “Day of Action,” according to Chuck Samuelson, the Minnesota organization’s executive director.

Protesters also gathered at the Burnsville office of Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota. They held signs that read “Stop the abuse of power,” and “The America I know would close Guantanamo.”

“Did we lose faith in our justice system?” asked one protester. “It worked for 200 hundred years with minor glitches.”