Editorial / San Francisco Chronicle – 2012-01-12 02:07:31
Indefinite Detention Violates American Values
Editorial / San Francisco Chronicle
(January 8, 2012) — As a candidate for president, Barack Obama argued in 2008 that the indefinite detention of suspects without a trial was at odds with American values. He was absolutely right. Due process is one of this nation’s most cherished rights, a defining attribute of a free country. Yet Obama recently signed a $662 billion defense bill that obliterates due process by giving the military the authority to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely — even if they are US citizens.
Obama knew the indefinite detention provision was wrong when he threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act because of it. He knew it was wrong when the bill reached his desk. He signed it anyway with a lame rationale and a hollow assurance: “I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”
Thus, the president with the background in constitutional law was violating John Adams’ admonition that “the only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.” As Adams famously declared, the framers were dedicated to “a government of laws, and not of men.”
In allowing indefinite detention to become the law of the land, Obama has effectively asked Americans to trust him — not the rule of law — to ensure their liberty. He also has taken a leap of faith that his successors will not be drawn by panic or insecurity into using this legal weapon to detain Americans without charge or trial.
“This statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The one saving grace of Obama’s tug-of-war with Congress was the removal of a provision in the House version that would have prohibited the use of civilian courts to prosecute people suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. All such cases would have been handled in military trials. As Obama has maintained, numerous terrorism suspects have been successfully prosecuted in civilian courts — and the process lends credibility to their convictions while putting this nation’s commitment to due process and the rule of law on display for the world to see.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove (Sacramento County), have sponsored Senate and House bills to guarantee that a congressional authorization for military force does not usurp the right to due process for American citizens apprehended on US soil. It fully preserves the ability of armed forces to apprehend and detain combatants — including US citizens — on foreign battlefields.
“The Due Process Guarantee Act is picking up momentum because this isn’t about Democrats or Republicans; it’s about what makes us Americans,” Garamendi said, adding in his statement that his HR3702 now has 33 co-sponsors. “We have the privilege of living in a free society. Let’s keep it that way.”
Obama’s statement that accompanied his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act made plain his objections to indefinite detention.
Compromise is part of the political process, but the foundational principles of this nation should not be tendered as the cost of passing a bill about national defense. Obama should be prepared to get his signing pen ready for legislation that would restore the American values he so eloquently and emphatically espoused as a candidate.
(c) 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.