U.S. Can’t Detain Suspects Indefinitely

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Part of the beauty of the American Constitution is that there are checks and balances in place to protect the rights of all. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean justice will always be served. Yet, isn’t this constitutional framework part of the great promise of America?

[Speaking Truth To Power]

Is President Barack Obama now adopting aspects of the Bush Administration’s indefinite detention policy?
Since President Obama came to power the issue of what to do with the 240 “detainees” at Guantanamo Bay has been a major sticking point.

The president had stated that he’d close this Gulag symbol of American torture; but he’s now made a stunning statement that some of these prisoners, who haven’t been charged with any crime, can continue to be imprisoned indefinitely as a preventive measure.

Last Friday, President Obama stated: “We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country.” Adding, “But even when this process is complete, there maybe a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States.” 

Does this president really want to endorse the doctrines of preventative detention and indefinite detention adopted by the last administration of war criminals? This president told us that he would promote transparency and the rule of law—that’s why many who voted for him did. As a constitutional law professor, President Obama surely knows better. So why is he making such a monumentally wrong-headed decision? 

This is the sort of thing one expects in dictatorships. Most of the “cultured” countries in the world oppose the practice of indefinite detention, Australia being an unfortunate exception. Why are officials promoting this as a way to keep us “safe?”  Isn’t it America’s intrusively hypocritical foreign policy that makes her vulnerable by creating enemies worldwide? Are the drone strikes, even when they do sometimes hit intended targets, but very often also killing innocents in Pakistan and Afghanistan, making us “safer” or creating more radicalized malcontents?

A May 2007 Human Rights report established that the United States was in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a component of International Law, due to the outrages at Guantanamo. Two provisions in particular stand out.  One upholds “Protection on individual's physical integrity” against things such as execution, torture, and arbitrary arrest; another affirms “Procedural fairness in law” which is rule of law, rights upon arrest, trial, basic conditions must be met when imprisoned, rights to a lawyer, impartial process in trial. 

The United States has clearly dishonored these two provisions.

Lately, the Obama White House has made several dubious decisions. The recent determination to conceal “enhanced interrogation” torture pictures—along with the fool-hardy continuation of war in Afghanistan and Pakistan—also come to mind. And with this latest judgment, to hold some “detainees” indefinitely, America has again showed that she often hardly practices the lofty ideals she always preaches.

Question: what good reason is there for our government’s refusal to prosecute terror suspects according to the normal rules of American jurisprudence?  Don’t these suspects have the right to a speedy trial because they’re so-called “Islamic” or “Arab terrorists?”

Shouldn’t there be presumption of innocence until proven guilty? How can the Obama Administration, in good conscience, keep people locked-up without affording them the right to the fair trial Americans would expect if the defendants were Americans? Under the Sixth Amendment, no American citizen can be imprisoned for years while awaiting trial.

The argument has been made that these “terrorists” are so dangerous that we can’t take a chance freeing them. Apparently, we should take the government’s word these people are guilty, even though they, apparently, don’t have the evidence required to prove it.

Wasn’t it also government, albeit the previous one that claimed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction?

There’s another tragic irony here: America continues to hold terror suspects without the necessary proof, while war criminals like Dick Cheney are allowed to repeatedly admit their crimes on national TV and rationalize them.

Unfortunately, the Obama White House has used the excuse that they want to “move forward” and won’t pursue Bush Administration officials who engaged in war crimes. The evidence against these offenders is overwhelming. Yet, these war-profiteering, mass murdering criminals are riding off with a free pass into the sunset, while America holds “detainees” at Guantanamo Bay without any concrete proof of wrongdoing. Something is seriously wrong here.

President Obama made a commitment that he would again implement the “rule of law” abandoned by the Bush Administration. Will that campaign rhetoric be honored fully? In a just society we cannot keep people in jail because we believe, or know, they are bad people.

Part of the beauty of the American Constitution is that there are checks and balances in place to protect the rights of all. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean justice will always be served. Yet, isn’t this constitutional framework part of the great promise of America?

If politicians subjugate these ideals when it suits them, what will happen to this promise of America that President Obama states he believes in? President Obama pledged to close Guantanamo. Its time to put up or shut up, America should either charge these prisoners or set them free.


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