Obama will bypass Congress to detain suspects indefinitely
By John Byrne
President Barack Obama has quietly decided to bypass Congress and allow the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects without charges.
The move, which was controversial when the idea was first floated in The Washington Post in May, has sparked serious concern among civil liberties advocates. Such a decision allows the president to unilaterally hold "combatants" without habeas corpus -- a legal term literally meaning "you shall have the body" -- which forces prosecutors to charge a suspect with a crime to justify the suspect's detention.
Obama's decision was buried on page A 23 of The New York Times' New York edition on Thursday. It didn't appear on that page in the national edition. (Meanwhile, the front page was graced with the story, "Richest Russian's Newest Toy: An N.B.A. Team.")
Rather than seek approval from Congress to hold some 50 Guantanamo detainees indefinitely, the administration has decided that it has the authority to hold the prisoners under broad-ranging legislation passed in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Former President George W. Bush frequently invoked this legislation as the justification for controversial legal actions -- including the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.
"The administration will continue to hold the detainees without bringing them to trial based on the power it says it has under the Congressional resolution passed after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, authorizing the president to use force against forces of Al Qaeda and the Taliban," the Times' Peter Baker writes. "In concluding that it does not need specific permission from Congress to hold detainees without charges, the Obama administration is adopting one of the arguments advanced by the Bush administration in years of debates about detention policies."
Constitutional scholar and Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald discussed the policy in a column in May. He warned that the ability for a president to "preventively" detain suspects could mushroom into broader, potentially abusive activity.
"It does not merely allow the U.S. Government to imprison people alleged to have committed Terrorist acts yet who are unable to be convicted in a civilian court proceeding," Greenwald wrote. "That class is merely a subset, perhaps a small subset, of who the Government can detain. Far more significant, 'preventive detention' allows indefinite imprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally 'dangerous' by the Government for various reasons (such as, as Obama put it yesterday, they 'expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden' or 'otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans'). That's what 'preventive' means: imprisoning people because the Government claims they are likely to engage in violent acts in the future because they are alleged to be 'combatants.'"
"Once known, the details of the proposal could -- and likely will -- make this even more extreme by extending the 'preventive detention' power beyond a handful of Guantanamo detainees to anyone, anywhere in the world, alleged to be a 'combatant,'" Greenwald continues. "After all, once you accept the rationale on which this proposal is based -- namely, that the U.S. Government must, in order to keep us safe, preventively detain "dangerous" people even when they can't prove they violated any laws -- there's no coherent reason whatsoever to limit that power to people already at Guantanamo, as opposed to indefinitely imprisoning with no trials all allegedly 'dangerous' combatants, whether located in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, Western countries and even the U.S."
The Obama Administration appears to have embraced "preventive detention" in part because of problems with how Guantanamo prisoners' cases -- and incarceration -- were handled under President Bush. Military prosecutors have said that numerous cases could not be brought successfully in civilian courts because evidence was obtained in ways that wouldn't be admissible on US soil. The Bush Administration originally sought to try numerous detainees in military tribunals, but the Supreme Court ruled that at least some have the rights to challenge their detention in US courts.
Baker notes that Obama's decision to hold suspects without charges doesn't propose as broad an executive authority claimed by President Bush.
"Obamaâ??s advisers are not embracing the more disputed Bush contention that the president has inherent power under the Constitution to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely regardless of Congress," Baker writes.
In a statement to Baker, the Justice Department said, â??The administration would rely on authority already provided by Congress [and] is not currently seeking additional authorization.â??
â??The position conveyed by the Justice Department in the meeting last week broke no new ground and was entirely consistent with information previously provided by the Justice Department to the Senate Armed Services Committee,â?? the statement added.
Roughly 50 detainees of the more than 200 still held at the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are thought to be affected by the decision.[/i]