Tag Archives: indefinite detention

Wrong is Wrong

Since the election of Barack Obama, the GOP–aka “the party of no”–has shown impressive discipline, putting party orthodoxy ahead of both the common good and, frequently, sanity. The Democrats, on the other hand, have happily confirmed Will Rogers’ great line: “I’m not a member of any organized political party; I’m a Democrat.” The left wing of the party has pretty constantly criticized the President for not doing more, not doing it more quickly, and not doing what they wanted.

I’ve considered much of this criticism unfair–often it has been the result of not understanding the constraints imposed by Separation of Powers, or the magnitude of the economic threat he inherited. Other complaints have had more merit–contrary to Republican rhetoric, for example, Obama has often seemed too willing to compromise, too reluctant to play hard-ball. But by far the most serious criticism has been his acceptance of Bush-era infringements on civil liberties.

This is a man who taught Constitutional law, a man who stood up for the rule of law as a Senator and who said all the right things as a candidate. It was a relief, after 8 years of a profoundly lawless administration, to cast a vote for someone who could be expected to respect Constitutional limits. That expectation has proved illusory, and Obama’s embrace of Bush-era surveillance measures has been painfully disappointing.

The recent announcement that the President would not veto the current Defense bill , however, is worse. While much of the bill is uncontroversial,  its counterterrorism section states that the entire world, including American soil, is a battlefield in the war on terror, and that the U.S. military thus has the authority to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, even citizens, suspected of aiding terrorists.

I can’t think of anything more profoundly unAmerican.

It’s bad enough that large numbers of Congressmen and Senators support this assault on the Constitution and the rule of law. For Obama–who clearly knows better–to sign it is simply inexcusable.  Laura Murphy, the longtime head of the ACLU’s Washington office, said it best:

“If President Obama signs this bill, it will damage both his legacy and American’s reputation for upholding the rule of law. The last time Congress passed indefinite detention legislation was during the McCarthy era and President Truman had the courage to veto that bill. We hope that the president will consider the long view of history before codifying indefinite detention without charge or trial.”

In ordinary times, when we had two responsible political parties, the loyal opposition would provide a corrective to Executive Branch over-reaching. The saddest thing about the farce that is our current political environment is that no such counterbalance exists; indeed, the major movers of this appalling provision include Lindsay Graham and the ever-angrier John McCain. The same GOP that contests the power of the White House to reform health care evidently has no problem handing over the power to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens.

We can only hope the Supreme Court remains sufficiently “activist” to invalidate this incredibly unAmerican measure.