A coalition of civil liberties and human rights groups has written a letter to Congress arguing that Guantanamo Bay shouldn't be closed if the result would simply be to transfer policies of indefinite detention without trial and the military commissions process to the Thompson Corrections Facility in Illinois. The coalition includes Alliance for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Center for Constitutional Rights, Government Accountability Project, Japanese American Citizens League, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Physicians for Human Rights, the United Methodist Church, and the General Board of Church and Society.
Bringing the practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial to any location within the United States will further harm the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution. Shortly after President Obama took office, the government prosecuted and convicted, in federal criminal court, the only person then-held on U.S. soil indefinitely without charge or trial. At present, the number of people held within the U.S. itself indefinitely without charge or trial is zero. However, if the Thomson prison is acquired and the current statutory prohibition on transferring Guantánamo detainees for purposes other than prosecution is allowed to expire, the number of persons held on U.S. soil without charge or trial could reportedly rise to 50 or more.
Moreover, Thomson could eventually become the place to send other persons held indefinitely without charge or trial—with the prospect of detainees being transferred there from Bagram, Afghanistan or new captures brought from other locations around the globe. The unfortunate reality that we would face if Thomson opens is that it is easier to go from 50 to 100 indefinite detention prisoners than it is to go from 0 to 1. Once the indefinite detention policy is institutionalized at Thomson, it will be difficult to hold the line at former Guantánamo detainees.
The coalition is ultimately right about the practice of indefinite detention. Like any unregulated use of executive power, it's impossible to imagine it being limited to the "hard cases" at Guantanamo that involved detainees that were, say, subject to abuse by the prior administration. In fact, broad assertions of executive power haven't even been limited to the last administration. Instead, we've seen the powers of the president expand, with the Obama administration asserting the right to assassinate American citizens without any due process or finding of guilt whatsoever.
From a civil libertarian point of view, we're in a much worse place than we were during the Bush administration, when Democrats were willing to oppose Bush's expansive claims of executive authority. Now we have only muted criticism from Democratic legislators and hysterical cries from Republicans that Obama isn't going far enough.
"There is a right way and a wrong way to close Guantanamo, and the current Thomson plan is the wrong way. Indefinite detention without charge or trial and military commission-related detention shouldn’t simply be moved from Guantanamo to Illinois," said ACLU Washington Legislative Counsel Chris Anders. "Opening Thomson without prohibiting the worst of Guantanamo policies from being transported there would be an enormous step backwards.”
-- A. Serwer