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America’s detainee problem

In a conventional war, enemy soldiers can be captured and held as prisoners of war until the end of combat. In the criminal justice system, an arrest for a violent crime will lead to a charge, followed by a guilty plea or jury trial.

But some individuals imprisoned in the war on terror declared after the 9/11 attacks face the worst of both worlds: detention without trial but without the consolation that they will be freed and returned to their families in a tolerable period of time.

Someone who lived in that twilight world for a decade was Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni who was captured near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2001 and held at Guantanamo Bay on suspicion of involvement with enemy forces.

Although the number of prisoners at Guantanamo has dwindled, the number of detainees could rise again under legislation passed by Congress last year. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act purports to be a reaffirmation of the Authorization of Military Force passed by Congress to target the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

In fact, its reach is broader, authorizing military detention of individuals who belong to or support not only al-Qaida but “associated forces.” Such individuals can be put on trial or detained without trial until “the end of the hostilities.”

Could that include U.S. citizens?

To ensure that U.S. citizens aren’t subjected to indefinite detention, Obama should press Congress to pass the Due Process Guarantee Act introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which would clarify that a declaration of war or authorization to use military force “shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.”

As for foreign detainees, the administration needs to make more of an effort to arrange the repatriation or resettlement of individuals no longer considered a threat.

Los Angeles Times



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