Congress: Reject Indefinite Detention

The US Congress should reject provisions in a defense spending bill that would permit long-term indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First, released a video today showing that such legislation would repeat broadly recognized mistakes of the past.

During World War II, some 70,000 American citizens were detained without charge because of their Japanese heritage. In 1950, during the rise of McCarthyism, the US passed the Emergency Detention Act authorizing detention of people who had not actually committed any act but who would "probably" engage in "acts of espionage or of sabotage" - the law was later repealed. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, in which the US admitted it made a mistake by interning Japanese-Americans, apologized for its actions, and provided reparations.

"Not since the McCarthy era has the US sought to legislate the indefinite detention of people without charge or trial and without any real ability to challenge their detention," said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Proposals like these are contrary to fundamental principles of justice and have long been recognized as mistakes."

The provisions were added to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012 during a closed door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee in June. The NDAA authorizes funding for most Defense Department operations, but the detention provisions are not essential to the bill's passage. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would not bring the NDAA to the floor for a vote until concerns about the detention provisions were resolved.

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