The Quandary of “Prolonged Detention”

President Obama, in his speech on Thursday relating to national security, set up the concept of "prolonged detention" of terrorism suspects who are security risks but cannot be tried because of lack of evidence, or tainted evidence. 

Having learned of national security details like no one who is privy to it other than if in the Presidency, Obama seems to have changed course in a way that dismays civil libertarians who believe that what he proposes to do, after closing Guantanomo as a prison for detainees, is unconstitutional.  These critics say that a justice system requires putting suspects on trial or releasing them, but Obama is making clear that he has no such intention, as many of the detainees are jihadists who are still committed to violence and bloodshed if released.  Obama has been sobered by reality and is therefore adapting to the information that he has, which his critics do not have.

Obama wants oversight by Congress and the judicial system, but the whole controversy reminds one of the Lincoln policy during the Civil War of detention of suspects without trial, something generally regretted but yet accepted and understood by Civil War and Lincoln scholars as unavoidable.

I am torn on this issue, as I am a full believer in civil liberties, but also feel that national security MAY require what Obama proposes to do.  However, it does  make wonder if someday scholars will look back at the Bush policy of "indefinite detention" and, instead of the general tendency at this time to condemn it, to come to a conclusion similar to that of Lincoln’s time–that it was unavoidable.  Such is the reality of changing views of Presidential decisions.

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