An extremely hard position to square with Candidate Obama 2008, and an extraordinary step for a former professor of Constitutional Law. Guardian:
Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial: Civil rights groups dismayed as Barack Obama abandons commitment to veto new security law contained in defence bill
Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.
Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing. The legislation has also been strongly criticised by libertarians on the right angered at the stripping of individual rights for the duration of “a war that appears to have no end”.
The law, contained in the defence authorisation bill that funds the US military, effectively extends the battlefield in the “war on terror” to the US and applies the established principle that combatants in any war are subject to military detention. …
“We’re talking about American citizens who can be taken from the United States and sent to a camp at Guantánamo Bay and held indefinitely. It puts every single citizen American at risk,” [Rand Paul] said. … Paul was backed by Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“Congress is essentially authorising the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens, without charge,” she said. “We are not a nation that locks up its citizens without charge.”
I think this is a very unwise step. Habeas Corpus — which requires that people be charged with crimes before they can be locked up — is one of the oldest principles of limited government for a reason: arrest and indefinite detention without charge is a favorite tool of despots. Not only is Obama abandoning principles he ran on in 2008, he is undermining foundations of our freedom.
UPDATE (by David): Mother Jones writes the following regarding this bill:
It does not, contrary to what many media outlets have reported, authorize the president to indefinitely detain without trial an American citizen suspected of terrorism who is captured in the US. A last minute compromise amendment adopted in the Senate, whose language was retained in the final bill, leaves it up to the courts to decide if the president has that power, should a future president try to exercise it. But if a future president does try to assert the authority to detain an American citizen without charge or trial, it won’t be based on the authority in this bill.
So it’s simply not true, as the Guardian wrote yesterday, that the the bill “allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.” When the New York Times editorial page writes that the bill would “strip the F.B.I., federal prosecutors and federal courts of all or most of their power to arrest and prosecute terrorists and hand it off to the military,” or that the “legislation could also give future presidents the authority to throw American citizens into prison for life without charges or a trial,” they’re simply wrong.
I haven’t read the bill, so I don’t know who’s right.