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Do Detainees Have Rights? | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Do Detainees Have Rights?

Some weeks ago, Anthony Romero, the Executive Director of the ACLU, showed me his copy of the executive orders that Barack Obama signed in January shutting down Guantanamo and the CIA's network of secret prisons. Romero had underlined various passages containing ambiguous language that he feared would enable the Obama administration to continue violating the constitutional rights of detainees.

At the time, I thought Romero was being slightly paranoid. Unfortunately, he wasn't. Back in February, the Obama administration had a chance to reconsider the Bush administration's view that detainees held without charge in Afghanistan were not entitled to challenge the reasons for their detention, one of the basic rights denied to prisoners at Guantanamo. "Having considered the matter, the Government adheres to its previously articulated position," the Justice Department wrote in a rather unambiguous echo of the Bush administration's position.

Two weeks ago, US District Judge John D. Bates, a Bush appointee, nevertheless ruled that several detainees at the Bagram Air Base could not be detained indefinitely. Flown to Afghanistan from other countries, some of these detainees have been imprisoned for more than six years without trial. Offered the opportunity to reconsider the justness of this, the Obama Administration responded by announcing it would appeal this ruling.

I have no idea why the administration has decided to embrace the vision of unfettered executive power that Obama has eloquently pilloried in the past. I do know that his liberal admirers, including all those who were less apprehensive than Anthony Romero about the fine print in the executive orders signed back in January, on Obama's very first day in office, ought to be demanding an explanation.

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