The U.S. government cannot keep citizens in prison without accusing them of a specific crime and proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The right to a charge and a trial are in our Constitution. We boast that they separate us from lesser governments—lawless regimes that extinguish liberty on a whim.
Those rights, however, are not as secure as we may think. The federal government now has the power to detain indefinitely any person—including U.S. citizens—arrested on U.S. soil, indefinitely, without charging them with a crime or proving their guilt.
We have proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which the House is due to consider Thursday, that will protect the right to a charge and a trial for all people arrested in the U.S. It does not affect military detention of persons captured abroad, including those at Guantanamo. It simply states that anyone arrested on U.S. soil must receive his or her constitutional right to a charge and a trial.
Our proposal also repeals last year’s ill-conceived mandatory detention provision. The current law prevents the military from judging whether to detain suspected terrorists caught abroad. The mandatory detention provision was opposed by virtually every national security expert that looked at it — including the heads of the CIA, the Defense Department, the FBI and the director of National Intelligence, as well as several Bush administration national security officials.