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The Bush administration continued in 2005 to detain large numbers of people without charge or trial and without regard to the laws of armed conflict.  Sometimes it forcibly “disappeared” them into one of its secret overseas detention facilities, making them highly vulnerable to torture.  Under customary laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, a state can detain enemy combatants without trial until the end of an armed conflict.  But the Bush administration extended that principle beyond recognition.  It continued to detain former Taliban soldiers even though the war with the Afghan government, on whose behalf they had fought, ended at least by June 2002 after the government of Hamid Karzai formally took office.  It continued to snatch suspects from places far from any traditional battlefield—Italy, Macedonia, Bosnia, Tanzania, the United States—without regard to their criminal-justice rights. 

Under the administration’s theory, it can, on its own say-so, without any judicial review, seize anyone anyplace in the world and hold him until the end of the “global war against terrorism,” which may never come.  That radical theory shreds the most basic due process protections.  However, in November 2005, when it appeared that the U.S. Supreme Court might test this theory in the case of Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in the United States and held for more than three years as an enemy combatant, the Bush administration suddenly decided to charge him criminally, in an apparent effort to avoid judicial review. 

Other governments have not made such extreme claims, but they nonetheless have sought to detain terrorist suspects without trial—often on the basis of secret evidence of dubious reliability.  Canada uses “security certificates” to detain indefinitely non-citizens said to present a threat to national security.  Britain and Australia introduced legislation in 2005 allowing for “control orders” to subject suspects to house arrest and other restrictions without trial for renewable one-year periods.  The British government also sought to extend the period that terrorism suspects can be detained without charge from fourteen days (already the longest in Europe) to ninety days.  Parliament rejected the proposal but appeared willing as of late November to double the detention period to twenty-eight days. These policies further discredited these governments as human rights defenders.  At this writing, for example, Jordan reportedly was modeling a draft anti-terrorism law on recent British legislation. 

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2006