President Obama Reaffirms Power of Indefinite Detention, Will Not Seek Additional Congressional Powers

The Obama administration reaffirmed its belief this week that it has the power to indefinitely detain prisoners at Guantanamo and said it would not reach out and ask Congress to craft legislation to give them the authority.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said that when Congress on Sept. 18, 2001 gave President George W. Bush the authorization to use force against those behind the 9/11 attacks, lawmakers gave President Obama the power to indefinitely detain prisoners captured in that effort.

“Congress has already provided authorization through the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to detain persons who the president determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, persons who harbored those responsible for those attacks, and persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al Qaeda forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners,” Boyd said.

This is different than President Bush’s claim he had an inherent executive authority to detain people.

The decision was met with mixed emotions by civil liberties groups.

“We're pleased that they're not going to go to Congress to get legislation,” Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told ABC News, saying that means it will be “less likely that we're going to have a chaotic and harmful debate and legislative process in Congress.”

The ACLU feared that Congress might write laws granting authorities to President Obama than the ones he is asserting.

That said, Anders took issue with the fact that President Obama is continuing indefinite detention of prisoners without charge.

“The Obama administration has continued to polices of the Bush administration of holding people at Guantanamo, Bagram, and elsewhere, and not trying them,” Anders said. “They should not be exercising that authority.”

Anders argues that there exists “no reason why this government cannot charge and try people suspected of terrorism crimes” since the statutes written for those who have aided and abetted terrorism are so broad it’s easy to convict someone of the crime.

In his May address on national security , President Obama described a category of detainees – those “who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases, because evidence may be tainted, but who, nonetheless, pose a threat to the security of the United States” -- calling the dilemma of what to do with them the "toughest single issue that we will face.”

At the time, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, hammered the decision, saying "allowing detention without trial creates a dangerous loophole in our justice system that mimics the Bush administration’s abusive approach to fighting terrorism.”

The president described these detainees as perhaps individuals who have "received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps or commanded Taliban troops in battle or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans."

But perhaps the evidence against them is tainted because of use of brutal interrogation techniques. The president said his "goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred."

The rules can't "be based simply on what I or the executive branch decide alone. And that's why my administration has begun to reshape the standards that apply to ensure that they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible, and lawful standards for those who fall into this category. We must be fair procedures so that we don't make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.”

Boyd said today that since courts in Washington, D.C., continue to actively review habeas corpus cases of Guantanamo detainees, that counts as carefully evaluating and justifying detentions.

“The administration is not currently seeking additional authorization,” Boyd said.

-jpt

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