Among the many aspects of Obama's Thursday speech on national security that drew criticism from human rights advocates and civil libertarians, the notion that the United States could engage in preventive detention proved most objectionable.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, compared the whole program to something out of the Steven Spielberg flick "Minority Report."
"[Obama] is re-wrapping a preventive detention scheme and giving it some more due process," said Ratner. "In the end, it still comes down to holding people -- much like Minority Report or pre-crime stuff -- for being dangerous, and that is not something that I think is constitutional or this country should be engaged in."
Another official with a civil libertarian group giggled at the comparison, before acknowledging that Ratner "has a point."
Indeed, the notion that American forces could hold a suspected terrorist without charge out of concern for the country's safety is being hailed by both conservatives and progressive alike as just adding bells and whistles to Bush administration policy. The only difference is that conservatives applaud the approach while progressives lament it -- though it's hard to track the issue along a traditional ideological scale.
When pressed on the matter during Friday's White House briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated that the president wanted "to work through this with Congress and make sure that whatever is done will hold up legally." As for preventive detention, Gibbs stressed that Obama was doing his best to balance the rule of law with the demands of threats from terrorism.
"The president takes very seriously the oath of office that he took to protect the American people," he said. "There may be cases... were somebody received explosive training from al Qaeda or commanded Taliban troops, but these detainees based on any number of circumstances aren't able to be tried but still pose an obvious threat to this country. And I would say that is a scenario where we ensure that the safety and security of the American people" is protected.