I am a proud supporter of your administration, and a Democratic activist. I generally approve of your policies; though I am often distressed by their relative caution and conventionality, I recognize the realities of policy-making in the complex Washington environment. I hope for more audacity.
There is one issue, however, where I am terribly disappointed: your handling of the “enemy combatant” detainees you inherited from the Bush administration. Your rhetoric during the campaign led me to believe that you would make fundamental changes to what you said was a violation of the Constitution. Yet, with the exception of your early decision to order the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, your administration has consistently adopted the Bush position on the detainees, arguing repeatedly in court to minimize the rights of these detainees.
My concern here is that the Bush administration (and now yours as well) has adopted the view that threats to national security (as interpreted by the Executive itself) justify a wide range of actions by the government and restrictions on individuals which would not otherwise be legal. I append to this letter an article I wrote in 2006, directed against the Bush policy. It now applies to you as well. On at least two occasions in court, the Obama Justice Department was given the opportunity to reject the Bush doctrine that detainees have no right to seek a writ of habeas corpus. On both occasions, the government declined to change its position. Thus, it is still the Obama administration’s position that people may be detained indefinitely without charges and without redress.
If we can deny these people rights such as habeas corpus, or the right to a trial in military or civilian courts, if we can detain them indefinitely without trial, then what is to stop some future president from using this precedent against domestic political opponents? Is this not what our forebears rebelled against in 1776? Is it not what the Constitution is about, a government of laws, not of men?
I ask that you have the honor to do what you promised to do, end this unconstitutional travesty, rather than perpetuating it.