Thursday, May 21, 2009

Echoing Bush, Obama Calls For Prolonged Detention Without Charge

Indefinite military detention and the denial of habeas corpus are illegal concepts associated with the Bush administration. It was therefore disturbing to read about President Obama's proposal of "prolonged detention" for terrorism suspects, presented at a speech at the National Archives in Washington:

Yet another question is what to do with the most problematic group of Guantánamo detainees: those who pose a national security threat but cannot be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because evidence is tainted.

The answer proposed by Mr. Obama would write an entirely new chapter in American law to permit “prolonged detention” — just as at Guantánamo, but with oversight by the courts and Congress. Human rights advocates express outrage at that approach, however, saying it would violate the very civil liberties Mr. Obama, a former lecturer on constitutional law, has vowed to protect.

“It is very troubling that he is intent on codifying in legislation the Bush policies of indefinite detention without charge,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the speech. “That simply flies in the face of established American legal principle.”

Interspersing excerpts of Obama's speech with her comments, Rachel Maddow spoke of the contradiction between the president's defense of the rule of law and his call for indefinite detention:

Obama: There may be a number of people who can’t be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.
Maddow: We’re not prosecuting them for past crimes, but we need to keep them in prison because of their expectation of their future crimes.
Obama: Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture, like other prisoners of war, must be prevented from attacking us again.
Maddow: Prevented. We will incarcerate people preventively. Preventive incarceration. Indefinite detention without trial. That’s what this is. That’s what President Obama proposed today if you strip away the euphemisms. 

Obama: We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified. …My administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.
Maddow: You’ll construct a legal regime to make indefinite detention legal. …so you can construct a whole new system outside the courts, even outside the military commissions, so that you can indefinitely imprison people without charges.

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