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Definition of Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus is a writ of command that a person held for a crime must be presented before a judge. It literally means "you have the body." An individual who is being held can petition the court for the writ to force the court to bring them before a judge to determine if the government has the legal right to continue to hold them. The Constitution allows for the suspension of the right of habeas corpus only "in cases of rebellion or invasion to the public safety."

The founding fathers believed the concept of Habeas Corpus was necessary to eliminate the ability of the government to hold its citizens, thus preserving their "liberty, justice, and democracy." This right was enshrined in the very first article of the United States' Constitution and encompasses the idea that citizens have the fundamental right not to be held by the executive branch without cause. The right of Habeas Corpus only applies to United States' citizens who are not determined to be "enemy combatants."

Some political pundits have questioned if the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay should be considered "enemy combatants" and whether their rights are being infringed. Although the detainees are not U.S. citizens there have been charges they are being held illegally because the U.S. Government has not officially charged them with a crime but continues to detain them indefinitely.

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