Editorial: Obama unveils a bonafide legal nightmare

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

Some claim the American Dream died long ago; last week president Barack Obama delivered a speech that outlined the violent end of the American Soul.

Standing at a podium in the National Archives- which houses the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights- Obama’s voice echoed out his administration’s plans to enable, through legal means, a mechanism for preemptively imprisoning suspected future terrorists. This is surely one of the most serious challenges to the core values of the United States ever seriously considered. It rivals even the Draconian and inexcusable punitive measures employed by the Bush administration. Seeking to enshrine in law the ability to detain individuals who could not be held by current legal standards, Obama’s proposal is not operating beyond the law as Bush’s clearly had done, it aims at becoming law, thereby completing the erosion of American justice that began under the much-reviled Texan.

That this would be government-sanctioned is deeply troubling. The criteria for imprisonment are so stringent because of the grievous cost of mistaken detainment or inappropriately harsh punishment. As individuals have no real power measured against governments, it is imperative that the government be constrained when acting against any particular person. Thus, innocence is assumed until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt and certain standards of evidence must be attained. It should be obvious that preemptive detainment is wrong, for it is imprisonment without evidence, based merely on suspicion. It is hard to conceive of a society as free when not protected from such speculative confinement.

The concept of preemptive detention is dangerously close, perhaps inseparable in certain cases, from incarcerating political prisoners. Though it’s unlikely the new powers would be broadly applied, they nevertheless will immerse some in a vortex of imaginary crimes and damning- in a near-literal sense- suspicions. Given that, by definition, there is no solid basis for an individual’s preemptive detention, there would clearly be no meaningful way for the detainee to demonstrate their innocence. Unfortunately, ghosts are hard to shake off.

Obama stated that such a system would be legally established, but this is simply a rhetorical swindle. Assuming that he intends for the American legal system to remain just, it cannot intern individuals who have done nothing to warrant it.

Because suspicion is so prone to error and so imprecise, it is not, nor should it be, sufficient to jail someone. There are strong reasons for ensuring that a government, especially in a democratic nation, never gains the power to arbitrarily detain individuals for no solid reason. The decision to unshackle itself from these constraints would end the notion of proper justice in the U.S. The country would, from that point, be violating some of its most long-standing and deepest held values- particularly the notions of individual liberty and justice.

It seems unlikely that this heinous proposition was the kind of change American voters sought in their new president. Or so I hope.

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