Barack Obama’s speech last week at the National Archives, delivered with the Bill of Rights as a backdrop, eloquently expressed a president’s faith that it is possible to keep the nation secure while remaining true to the rule of law.
But civil libertarians heard sour notes, and U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, shares their concerns.
In fact, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution has informed the president that he plans to hold hearings on aspects of the president plan that the senator bluntly describes as violations of basic American values that are “likely unconstitutional.”
At issue are Obama’s outline of his intention to maintain military commissions – which he once dismissed as unwise and unnecessary – and his proposal to allow for the “prolonged detention” without charges or trials of prisoners held by the United States.
“We welcome President Obama’s stated commitment to the Constitution, the rule of law and the unequivocal rejection of torture,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “But unlike the president, we believe that continuing with the failed military commissions and creating a new system of indefinite detention without charge is inconsistent with the values that he expressed so eloquently at the National Archives today.”
Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner was even tougher in his response.
“The president wrapped himself in the Constitution and then proceeded to violate it by announcing he would send people before irredeemably flawed military commissions and seek to create a preventive detention scheme that only serves to move Guantanamo to a new location and give it a new name,” argued Ratner.
CCR represents detainees at the U.S. government’s Guantanamo Bay facility, and the managing attorney for the group’s Guantanamo project, Shayana Kadidal added, “Preventive detention goes against every principle our nation was founded on. We have courts and laws in place that we respect and rely on because we have been a nation of laws for hundreds of years; we should not simply discard them when they are inconvenient. The new president is looking a lot like the old.”