(New York) - The Obama administration should shelve reported plans for holding terrorism suspects without charge or trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the administration had drafted an executive order that would reassert authority claimed by the Bush administration to detain suspects without charge indefinitely, including those currently held at Guantanamo Bay.
"Pursuing a policy of indefinite detention without charge would send the Obama administration down the same misguided path as its predecessor," said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. "It would be a major break from longstanding principles of American justice."
Human Rights Watch emphasized that US law provides ample grounds to prosecute and imprison anyone who has taken even a small step toward committing an act of terrorism. Preventive detention, which allows imprisonment on suspicion that someone will take dangerous action in the future, is unjust and inconsistent with US law and traditions.
President Barack Obama indicated that he would pursue a policy of "prolonged" detention of certain terrorism suspects during his May 21, 2009 address on national security. According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration is considering establishing the legal rules for this preventive detention regime via executive order, rather than by legislation.
Human Rights Watch said that indefinite detention without charge would be a glaring loophole in the US justice system and a dangerous precedent for other types of cases. It would also encourage repressive rulers around the world, who routinely rely on preventive detention as a means of neutralizing their political opposition.
"By bringing the practice of indefinite detention without charge onto US soil, the Obama administration would be closing Guantanamo in name only," Mariner said. "President Obama should think hard about whether he wants to institutionalize the discredited practice that made Guantanamo a stain on the reputation of the United States."