Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Despair or Confusion?

It's a bit late in the game to be commenting, but President Obama's proposal that if Congress does not give him power to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects without trial he will do so by executive order deserves comment.

On the one hand, the proposal is doubly an outrage. Proposing indefinite detention without charges by authority of Congress is bad enough. But at least in his original speech, Obama was humble enough to acknowledge that "prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man" and that such a system would require Congressional and judicial oversight. So now that it appears that if Congress will not give him the authority he wants, what is Obama proposing to do? Grant himself unilateral power to institute prolonged detention without Congressional or judicial oversight, of course.

On the other hand, there is a certain insanity to the entire dispute. For once, certain members of Congress are standing firm, refusing Obama authority to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects without trial. Yet at the same time we have been detaining terrorism suspects suspect without trial for almost seven years now, which makes the entire issue sort of moot. And as if that were not bad enough, Congress has passed a law specifically forbidding their release. So if Congress refuses to authorize indefinite detention of terrorists without charges, yet forbids their release, what meaningful distinction could there possibly be?

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