Obama’s preventive detention: hold ’em ’til hell freezes over

Here’s a topic that needs to come to the fore: while President Obama insists that he wants to close Gitmo, he’s thinking about ways to make it legal to imprison people forever without trial.

Not even Dick Cheney had the chutzpah to float that idea in public.

Obama supporters who want to attack me rather than defend his proposal should read my post from last July. I argued that a ruling by the 4th Circuit Court had essentially shredded the Constitution and crowned a new King George by granting President Bush the power to declare anyone — including U.S. citizens — an enemy combatant. This is essentially the power President Obama wants codified into law.

This creates an interesting dilemma for hard-core Obama supporters, or at least it should. If closing Gitmo is the right thing to do, then how can one defend indefinite detention? If keeping potentially dangerous men behind bars without charge is prudent (and somehow constitutional), then why the push to close Gitmo?

A nation at war has the right to detain enemy combatants. Al Qaida declared war on the United States in 1998, and the U.S. Congress authorized military force as a response after 9/11. But we’re dealing with an enemy that claims no national boundary and wears no uniform, and the war that may last decades if not forever.

So while that makes combatants potentially more difficult to identify and thus dangerous than in past conventional conflicts, it also means that a larger percentage of the men arrested in this war may be innocent and still spend the rest of their lives in a prison camp. That’s why — or at least, I thought that was why — candidate Obama argued for Gitmo’s closure. Now it appears that he was simply posturing for his supporters.

Salon.com columnist Glenn Grenwald has written an excellent piece on the president’s proposal. It’s worth reading.

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