The United States is currently detaining hundreds of individuals indefinitely without charge or trial. Some are being held at Guantánamo and others at the prison at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

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While the government has the right, under the laws of war, to detain prisoners captured on the battlefield until the end of hostilities, no president should have the power to declare the entire globe a war zone and then seize and detain civilian terrorism suspects anywhere in the world — including within the United States — and to hold them forever without charge or trial.

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But the Bush and Obama administrations have done just that, defining their powers too broadly, and claiming the authority to arrest and detain without charge or trial prisoners from around the globe whom they deem engaged in the "war on terror." In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order that permits ongoing indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees while establishing a periodic administrative review process for them.

If there is reliable evidence against a detainee, he should be prosecuted in our federal courts, which are well-equipped to handle sensitive national security evidence while protecting fundamental rights. If there is not enough reliable evidence for prosecution, there is certainly not enough to justify locking them up — possibly forever.

Imprisoning people indefinitely without charge or trial is illegal, un-American and an impediment to achieving justice.

Additional Resources

Close Guantánamo (2013): Well over a decade has passed since the first prisoner arrived in Guantánamo Bay, making it the longest-standing war prison in U.S. history. Almost 800 men have passed through Guantánamo’s cells. Today, more than 150 men remain. Fashioned as an “island outside the law” where terrorism suspects could be detained without process and interrogated without restraint, Guantánamo has been a catastrophic failure on every front. It is long past time for this shameful episode in American history to be brought to a close.

Unlawful Detention at Bagram Air Base (2010): The U.S. government's Bagram detention facility has been the focus of widespread media attention and public concern for many years, but very little information is publically available about the secrecy-shrouded facility or the prisoners held there. Since 2002, the U.S. government has detained indefinitely thousands of people there in harsh conditions and without charge, without access to lawyers, without access to courts, and without a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention.

Illegal Detentions in the "War on Terror" (2009): So far, individuals have been captured in over 50 countries, and the list is sure to grow. The system is illegal and unjust. We must uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, and that means treating suspected terrorists as suspected criminals, not warriors, and charging them and prosecuting them in ordinary federal courts. We can't let our government use the threat of terrorism to justify a system in which individuals picked up anywhere in the world - including, perhaps, here in the United States - can be held indefinitely by the military without charge or trial.

MAP: The World Is Not A Battlefield (2009): Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has claimed the authority to hold terrorism suspects in indefinite military detention - even suspects captured far away from any battlefield who have never taken up arms against the United States. But the so-called “war on terror” is not a traditional war. It has no geographic or temporal limitations. How will it end? How would we know if it did? And where is it taking place?

President Obama Issues Executive Order Institutionalizing Indefinite Detention (2011 press release): President Obama issued in March 2011 an executive order that permits ongoing indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees while establishing a periodic administrative review process for them. The administration also announced it will lift the ban on bringing new military commissions charges against detainees that don’t already have ongoing cases in the substandard system.

Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates (2006 PDF): On April 3, 2006, the Bureau of Prisons proposed a new regulation imposing severe restrictions on the ability of persons in Bureau custody to communicate with the outside world. Although the regulation is titled “Limited Communication for Terrorist Inmates,” the regulation can be applied to persons who have not been convicted, or even charged, with any act of terrorism, or indeed with any crime at all.

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