Monday, June 28, 2004

Due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker.


--Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority in the Supreme Court's decision today in Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld. The ruling repudiated the administration's arguments that it is entitled to hold in jail whomever it wishes merely by labelling them an "enemy combatant" -- without having a court review this classficiation.

This ends one of the most vicious assaults on civil liberties in recent memory. The Bush administration had decided, post 9/11, to hold American citizens captured on American soil as "enemy combatants" -- meaning keep them in jail without a trial, without letting them see a lawyer -- justifying this to the public by claiming they were planning to commit terrorist acts. This gave the government, in theory, unlimited power to throw in jail whomever it liked. All it had to do was apply the "enemy combatant" label -- it would never have to actually prove this claim in a court of law.

Although in practice the number of people prosecuted was quite small, and the effect on the life of the average American quite negligible, the actions taken by the administration set disturbing precedents for the future.

Its scary to see how easily the constitution was undermined in the last three years -- with what ease the Bush administration has been able to hold American citizens in jail without a trial -- and what an impressive array of talking heads jumped to a defense of this policy on TV.

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