The president promised to restore our basic constitutional protections, but that was back in the campaign when we were drunk on hope. These days, “It can be hard to distinguish between the Bush administration and the Obama administration when it comes to detainee policy,” laments The New York Times.
The Obama administration is currently defending a bizarre distortion of law that allows the government to detain its subjects without charge or trial.
It turns on a principle held sacrosanct since the country’s early days: the government cannot arrest you without evidence that you committed a crime. An exception is the material witness law, which allows the government to keep a witness from fleeing before testifying about an alleged crime by somebody else.
These principles were horribly twisted when John Ashcroft was President George W. Bush’s attorney general. The Justice Department held a former college football player in brutal conditions on the pretext that he was a material witness in a case in which he was never called to testify and which fell apart at trial.
The Bush administration’s behavior was disturbing, and so is the Obama administration’s forceful defense of this outrageous practice of using a statute intended for one purpose for something very different. Judge Milan Smith Jr. of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called it “repugnant to the Constitution.”