In 2005, Irregular Times responded to the Bush administration’s plans for lifetime detention without criminal charges or trial, writing an essay calling George W. Bush “The Quiet Dictator”:
It was revealed this week that the Bush Administration is planning to keep people as prisoners for their entire lives, even though there is no evidence that those people have committed any crime against the United States. The lack of evidence against these people is so striking that the American government does not even have enough grounds to bring them before a form of military tribunal that has been set up by George W. Bush precisely for the purpose of evading the standards of justice set by the United States Constitution….
In the old, pre-Homeland, United States of America, a person had to be convicted of murder, by a jury of peers, in a public, open trial, on the basis of evidence without a reasonable doubt, and with the opportunity for fair representation and appeal to the justice system to rule out mistakes and prosecutorial fraud. Oh, but that was before The Homeland was created, and as we’re told over and over again, in the Homeland, everything changed.
At first, it was a scandal that the President of the United States had claimed the power to set up his own courts, outside of the judicial branch of government, to force people through military tribunals that would be little more than kangaroo courts. Now, it appears that Mr. Bush, the Master of our Homeland, has decided that he does not have to give prisoners any trial at all, ever. He can just lock them up, forever….
It is a sad day for those Americans who actually care about freedom, to see the American President give himself the power to convict people and punish them with life sentences without any need of evidence or even the formality of a show trial. This power is at the heart of totalitarianism, and now that George W. Bush has seized it, he is nothing more than a dictator….
The saddest thing of all is that most Americans just don’t care. So long as they are not taken prisoner, they don’t care if other people are. So long as they are not tortured, they don’t care if other people are. So long as they are able to live safely in their homes, they don’t care if other people, in other countries, are killed in their homes.
There is a new nonchalance in America about the withering of freedom. Freedom has now become an abstract concept for most Americans, something that is to be given only to some people, but not to others. Now, under the shadow of The Homeland, Americans seem to like the idea that only good people that the government approves of have the privilege of freedom. Gone are the days when freedom was regarded as a universal human right. Americans seem to want only security and vengeance.
It’s five years later and George W. Bush is no longer in the White House. But have matters changed? Barack Obama, the new Master of our Homeland, has agreed with the old Master that he does not have to give some prisoners any trial at all, ever. He, too, can just lock them up forever.
On what basis does Barack Obama justify his seizure of dictatorial powers? The Obama Administration says that the people it is imprisoning are suspected of providing support to “terrorist organizations.” But at the same time, the Obama administration’s own task force declared in 2010 that:
Notably, the principal obstacles to prosecution in the cases deemed infeasible by the Task Force typically did not stem from concerns over protecting sensitive sources or methods from disclosure, or concerns that the evidence against the detainee was tainted. While such concerns were present in some cases, most detainees were deemed infeasible for prosecution based on more fundamental evidentiary and jurisdictional limitations tied to the demands of a criminal forum….
Generally these detainees cannot be prosecuted because either there is presently insufficient admissible evidence to establish the detainee’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in either a federal court or military commission, or the detainee’s conduct does not constitute a chargeable offense in either a federal court or military commission.
In plain English, what does this mean? It means that the Obama administration is maintaining the Bush administration practice of detaining people without end when there is not sufficient evidence to actually convict them of terrorist acts, or terrorist support, or even terrorist affiliations.
The Guantanamo Review Task Force, consisting of officials from six branches of the Obama administration, was unanimous in making these declarations. In its unanimous report, the Guantanamo Review Task Force approvingly placed the following fig leaf over the indefinite detention of people who have insufficient evidence of guilt and whose conduct does not constitute a chargeable offense:
Significantly, the Executive Order does not preclude the government from prosecuting at a later date someone who is presently designated for continued detention. Work on these cases continues. Further exploitation of the forensic evidence could strengthen the prosecution against some detainees. Other detainees may cooperate with prosecutors. If either the Department of Justice or the Department of Defense concluded in the future that prosecution of a detainee held without charges has become feasible in a federal court or in a military commission, the detention decisions made in the course of this review would permit the prosecution to go forward.
You read that right: the Obama administration wants to keep these people locked up because one day some new evidence might come up that connects these people to prosecutable crimes, and just in case the government wants to keep them handy.
It is another sad day for Americans who care about freedom but see the American President give himself the power to punish people with a life in detention without any need for evidence, without even the formality of a show trial. Such power is still at the heart of totalitarianism, and now that Barack Obama has taken that power, we might as well call him what he is: a dictator.
American liberals long warned that George W. Bush was leading America toward dictatorship. But Barack Obama has taken the same dictatorial powers for himself. Bush may be gone, but the dictatorship is still here.