Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Habeas-Free Island Prison, 1660s-Style

So here's an interesting historical tidbit for you, dating from the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1661: Once Charles II and the monarchists were back in power, they naturally wanted to round up their key enemies for imprisonment and torture. Standing in their way was the pesky writ of Habeas Corpus, which threatened to provide an avenue of judicial review for these extra-legal detentions.

The Lord Chancellor, Edward Hyde, First Earl of Clarendon, had a solution: build an offshore prison, beyond the jurisdictional reach of English courts. Yes, it went against nearly four hundred years of English legal tradition, but these Puritans were dangerous religious fanatics! These were the worst of the worst--men who did not recognize the ordinary rules of civilization; a new type of enemy against whom the old niceties were ineffective and for whom new procedures would need to be created. And so Lord Clarendon shipped these enemies to the Channel Islands, where the Great Writ could not reach them.

Sound familiar? The difference is that, back then, when people actually gave a shit the architect of this offshore "black hole" detention strategy was removed from office. Clarendon was impeached by the House of Commons in 1667 and spent the rest of his life exiled to France. The outrage over Clarendon's actions led Parliament to pass the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, prohibiting, among other abuses, "illegal imprisonments beyond the seas."

Not that anyone pays attention to this history stuff.


  1. "Exiled to France." That would be a fairly humorous end for the current offenders.

  2. Nice reminder of how history recycles but more pathetically this time around!

  3. I only recently discovered that Canada experimented with transporting people to Australia as well.

    Perhaps since Mr. Howard is such a fan of Mr. Bush, we could work out a similar arrangement.


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