For some people in Guantanamo Bay who are found not guilty in a court of law for whatever they are eventually put on trial for, the Obama Administration is floating the idea of keeping them in “indefinite detention” anyway. According to the Washington Post:
Guantanamo Bay detainees who are acquitted by civil or military courts may still be imprisoned indefinitely if the government determines that they pose a national security threat, the Defense Department’s chief lawyer said yesterday. “The question of what happens if there’s an acquittal is an interesting question — we talk about that often within the administration,” Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson said at a Senate hearing. “If, for some reason, he’s not convicted for a lengthy prison sentence, then, as a matter of legal authority, I think it’s our view that we would have the ability to detain that person,” he said.
Reading this sends a chill down my spine. We are a country governed by law, and we cherish our liberty. The United States Constitution establishes a number of safeguards to limit the government’s ability to use its awesome power to simply lock people away. That’s why we have trials. That’s why we have juries. That’s why we prevent the police from beating confessions out of people. That’s why we give defendants the right to cross-examine those testifying against them. And when the government loses at trial and a person is found not guilty, our liberty is further protected by the Constitution’s prohibition of double jeopardy.
Our nation’s founders knew that the system wouldn’t be perfect, but they recognized that protecting the rights of all people – even bad people – is what liberty is all about.
An LA Times editorial put it simply two years ago, when President Bush proposed the same idea as the one currently being discussed: “[A]n acquittal must mean more than a return trip to a prison cell.”
Just because it would be Barack Obama and not George Bush holding the prison door key does not make this any less of a threat to America’s constitutional principles.