With most of our celebrity-crazed media and public focused on the death of Michael Jackson, I guess it was the perfect time for a Friday night news dump like this:
“Obama administration officials, fearing a battle with Congress that could stall plans to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, are crafting language for an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely, according to three senior government officials with knowledge of White House deliberations.
Such an order would embrace claims by former president George W. Bush that certain people can be detained without trial for long periods under the laws of war.”
Then came the non-denial denial and the and semantic games from the White House:
“White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that there is no executive order and that the administration has not decided whether to issue one. But one administration official suggested that the White House is already trying to build support for an order.”
Notice the difference in language? There “is” no executive order. The WaPo article didn’t say there “is” an order, it said officials “are crafting” language for an executive order. I had hoped we were through with these kinds of slippery word games.
But the statement by “one administration official” gives it away. I assume the White House wouldn’t waste their time “trying to build support” for an action that they don’t intend to pursue.
There was also this strange claim:
“Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order,” the official said.”
One such civil liberties group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, told TPM:
“Prolonged imprisonment without trial is exactly the Guantanamo system that the President promised to shut down. Whatever form it takes – from Congress or the President’s pen – it is anathema to the basic principles of American law and the courts will find it unconstitutional.”
The ACLU released this statement:
“This is not change – this is more of the same. If President Obama issues an executive order authorizing indefinite detention, he’ll be repeating the same mistakes of George Bush, and his policies will be destined to fail as were his predecessor’s. How justice is served in America should not be an open question in a country where we have a rule of law and a time-tested criminal justice system. Throwing people into prison without charge, conviction or providing them with a trial is about as un-American as you can get. While President Obama might be experiencing difficulty with Congress when it comes to implementing his decision to close Guantánamo, the answer is not to issue an executive order authorizing a system which is unconstitutional and counter to the most fundamental American values.”
That doesn’t sound to me like they “encouraged the administration” to “do it through executive order.”
To me this issue, call it indefinite incarceration, preventive detention, or any other name, goes beyond Barack Obama’s presidency, the “war on terror,” or the closing of Guantanamo. This is a fundamental question of what kind of country we are.
We are the United States of America, damn it. We don’t hold people indefinitely without charges and without trials. If we don’t have enough evidence to bring people to trial, or if the evidence we do have was obtained through torture, we release them, plain and simple.
The danger in this is the precedent. What happens the next time we have a President Nixon, who draws up an enemies list and decides to imprison people indefinitely, and what happens if not just alleged terrorists but American citizens are among those “certain people” who are imprisoned based on nothing more than suspicion. His or her reasoning will be, President Bush got away with it, President Obama got away with it, who is going to stop me?
It’s time to put an end to this before it goes any further.