Friday, July 18, 2008

Upholding the President's Authority to Hold American Citizens Indefinitely and Without Charge

I wonder how many Americans would agree with the following statement:

The President should have the power to designate any American citizen that he sees fit, an "enemy combatant" and that citizen can then be held without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time.

It seems to me that this type of dictatorial power fundamentally goes against even the basic protections of the Constitution. The Fouth Circuit Appellate Court however, ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that the President should have this power.

The case that the Fourth Circuit was deciding, involved a man named Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. al-Marri was a citizen of Qatar in 2001 when he was legally in the United States on a student visa. Al-Marri was attending classes at Bradley University in pursuit of a graduate degree in computer science. (al-Marri earned his undergraduate degree from Bradley a decade earlier.) Al-Marri was living in Peoria, Illinois shortly after 9/11 when he was arrested as a material witness and charged with credit card fraud as well as making false statements as a part of a 9/11 investigation. In June of 2003, al-Marri was preparing for his criminal trial which was to start a month later, when President Bush declared him an enemy combatant and ordered the US military to seize him and place him in a navy brig in South Carolina. This is where al-Marri has remained for the past five years, much of the time in solitary confinement.

The ruling by the appellate court on Tuesday, upheld the President's ability to detain al-Marri without charge much like the similar ruling that was issued against Jose Padilla in 2005. The difference between Padilla's ruling and al-Marri's ruling is that al-Marri was never accused of fighting US troops or even going to Afghanistan, he was just accused by President Bush of being "involved" in a terrorist plot. It is stated in the ruling:

If properly designated an enemy combatant pursuant to legal authority of the President, such persons may be detained without charge or criminal proceedings 'for the duration of relevant hostilities'

Currently, the "relevant hostilities" that are referenced, refer to the so-called "War On Terror" which the Administration has claimed, could go on indefinitely.

This ruling amounts to the President having the power to hold any American citizen indefinitely and without charge by simply signing a sheet of paper that would designate such a citizen as an "enemy combatant". This power is truly frightening and should strike a chord within anyone who has respect for the very basic laws that have held this country together and kept America from slipping towards authoritarian rule. Today we find ourselves with a government who has such a warped view of executive power, that an Attorney General has stated that the President is his client.

This ruling further demonstrates the disrespect for the Constitution that this Administration continues to show and how those surrounding the Administration continue to defend such a view.


The Angry Georgian said...

I don't know. I'm torn on this subject and other subjects of this nature. We as citizens aren't privy to everything that goes on and there may be specific reasons for his detainment that can't be leaked to the public for safety's sake. I do like to gather all the facts I can before forming my own opinion, but how do we know that the facts we have are all of the facts? Unfortunately, we're forced to believe that what our leaders tell us is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Chris Johnson said...

In fact, we are not forced to believe that what our leaders tell us is the whole truth. We are a nation that was founded not on secrecy, but on the rule of the people to hold government accountable when they do not act in accordance with the law. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution assures us that we have the right to a "speedy and public trial" and it is laws such as this which work to assure that we are indeed a nation of laws, not of men.

Regardless of whether the President has some secret information that cannot be disclosed to the public, it is no justification to have the power to hold any citizen of the United States without charge or trail for an indefinite period of time. The laws that are crafted should not be that everyone is guaranteed to be charged with their crime, unless the President is privy to information that would harm the public, in which case the President can lock up whomever he chooses for an undisclosed amount of time. This power is not only tyrannical, but dictatorial as well.

Using the logic of "it is good to have all the facts, but how could we ever know if we have all the facts" would result in a justice system that would have zero power of enforcement. By this logic if I am on a jury and it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, I would not be able to convict the defendant because even though I have these facts, how do I know that I have all of the facts?

We must look at the very basic laws that have been set up to form the foundation of this country and imprisonment without charge, is not one of these fact the opposite is true. If someone is arrested, they deserve to be charged with a crime and they deserve to be able to defend themselves against the evidence that is presented. Locking people in navy brigs, not charging them with a crime, and holding them for an indefinite period of time is a mark of a society that is tyrannical and not beholden to the rule of law.