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Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans

by Kristine Huskey, JD & Matteo Quattrocchi on March 13, 2012

Last week, the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing on the proposed Bill “Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011.” The draft Bill would prohibit the indefinite detention of US citizens and permanent residents without charge or trial carried out on the basis of military force or a declaration of war, “unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.”

This might prove to be a significant step forward for how we treat “national security” detainees. However, the act is substantially limited in its scope, since it only protects US citizens and permanent residents—any foreign citizen in the US can still be detained without trial or charge for an indefinite period of time.

At the hearing, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the main sponsor of the Bill, emphasized the constitutional concerns with indefinite detention, the terrible effects indefinite detention has on detainees, and the lack of intelligence advantages of gained by denying arrested suspects their basic rights.

Dr. Scott Allen, a medical advisor at PHR, submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee written testimony on the medical effects of indefinite detention. His testimony was entered into the Hearing record and was expressly mentioned by Sen. Feinstein.

Sen. Feinstein also acknowledged the possibility of amending the scope of the Bill so that it would extend to individuals beyond US citizens and permanent residents. PHR would welcome such an amendment. As documented in PHR’s report, “Punishment Before Justice: Indefinite Detention in the US”, indefinite detention may cause severe harms in healthy individuals, independent of other aspects or conditions of detention. These harms can occur regardless of legal status and, in some cases, may rise to the level of torture and inhuman treatment. 

The New York Times also recently published a letter to the editor, written by Dr. Scott Allen and Kristine Huskey, on the physical and psychological harms caused by indefinite detention.

PHR continues to condemn indefinite detention in a “war against terrorism” that could last forever, and calls upon Congress and the Administration to reject solutions to national security problems that rely on the use of indefinite detention.


Places: United States

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