Saturday, December 29, 2007

Enemies of the State

Just in case you had any remaining doubts about the importance of the writ of habeas corpus, recently declassified documents show that in 1950, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover floated a plan to detain about twelve thousand people, almost all American citizens, without judicial trial on the ground that they were "potentially dangerous to the internal security of the country." The plan called for suspension of habeas corpus and detention in military prisons. Eventually, those detained would have received a hearing by a Hearing Board consisting of a judge (either federal or state) and two citizens chosen by the Attorney General. The decision of the Hearing Board would be subject to review by the Attorney General, whose decision would be final except for appeal to the President.

Well, isn't that lovely -- throw everyone in jail and allow the Attorney General's handpicked flunkies to decide whether to let them out, with review by the Attorney General.

America's current wave of extrajudicial detentions continues with only muted outcry because it affects people whom most Americans can comfortably regard as the "other." Hoover's extreme plan usefully reminds us that abuse of freedom is everybody's business. Once procedures for locking people up without charge and trial exist, they endanger everybody. The FBI Director had a plan to lock American citizens up en masse. Who knows what plans Alberto Gonzales put together that have yet to be discovered. This isn't just a danger to other people -- our own freedom is at stake.

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