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Congress calls witnesses to speak on dangers of indefinite detention

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 9:20 EDT
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A protester in an orange military prison uniform and sensory-deprivation bag over his head, demonstrating in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 5, 2007 against the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Photo: Flickr user takomabibelot.
 
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A series of witnesses called to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on indefinite detention Wednesday morning will outline just how dangerous a president’s “unchecked authority” is to the freedoms Americans hold dear, giving lawmakers historical context on moments when American politicians ignored the principles enshrined in the Magna Carta, and the darkness that soon followed.

Appearing before the committee, Reps. Jeff Landry (R-LA) and John Garamendi (D-CA) will both tell Senate lawmakers how they would clarify last year’s defense spending authorization to assert that nothing in the law permits the indefinite detention of Americans.

“Congress must speak in a clear unwavering voice when the liberty of individuals is at stake. As we know from the dark moments in our past, where there is ambiguity in the law, abuses at the highest levels of the government can occur,” Garamendi was expected to tell the committee, according to prepared remarks given exclusively to Raw Story.

“We must clarify existing law to guarantee the Due Process rights of every American are protected,” he said. “It is a foundational principle of our great nation that we are all innocent until proven guilty and that we all deserve a fair trial.”

They will be joined by two legal experts — Lorraine K. Bannai, professor at the Seattle University School of Law and Stephen I. Vladeck, professor at American University Washington College of Law — who will help lawmakers understand the historical context of American-imposed indefinite detention, along with the lack of nuance within the bill that has civil rights advocates so upset.

A third witness — Steven G. Bradbury, former director of the Office on Legal Counsel and a primary architect of the Bush administration’s torture program, called to testify by Senate Republicans — will argue in favor of unrestrained executive authority.

Professor Bannai’s testimony will focus on the indefinite detention of Japanese Americans during World War II, who she said faced a very similar experience being imprisoned without due process.

“President Roosevelt gave the military authority to go unchecked during World War II to do what it felt fit against the ones they felt could [attack us] again,” she told Raw Story. “Pursuant to that executive authority, over 110,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their west coast homes and placed in internment camps.”

Bannai added that another item on the committee’s agenda, Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) Due Process Guarantee Act, appeared to be a dramatic step in the right direction, and said she will urge lawmakers to seriously consider it.

“The provisions in the NDAA are basically really murky,” she said. “They say that it doesn’t change existing law, but I’m not so confident that existing law is clear about the ability to detain individuals in this country. I think it’s really an opportunity that Sen. Feinstein is trying to take — an opportunity to clarify that the U.S. government’s military authority does not let them detain citizens and lawful residents without due process.”

Garamendi, who has introduced Feinstein’s bill in the House, added that he believes President Barack Obama will follow his word and refrain from using the rules in a wide-ranging manner to imprison citizens without trial, but similarly urged lawmakers to pass the Due Process Guarantee Act on principle.

“The law itself must be absolutely clear,” he will say. “That is why I chose to introduce H.R. 3702 the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011 in the House. This bill states unequivocally that the government cannot indefinitely detain American citizens arrested inside this country without trial or charge. The bill amends the Non-Detention Act of 1971 by providing that a Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) does not authorize the indefinite detention — without charge or trial — of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who are apprehended domestically. In addition to the AUMF, the bill also states that a declaration of war or a similar act by the Executive or Congress does not abridge this right.”

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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