KorematsuHaving served in the United States Air Force for eight years, I’m a person who takes the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States quite seriously. I also served in an intelligence role, and our training at the time emphasized the limits under which we operated, limits specifically in place to help protect American citizens, and especially to preserve their freedoms. The idea that our government thinks it can lock an American up based on “suspicion” that he or she somehow “supported” an alleged “terrorist” organization just doesn’t seem very constitutional to me! Yet our current law allows just that. Senator Dianne Feinstein and others in the Senate are trying to do something about indefinite detention and I’m hoping they’ll get enough support from Americans across the political spectrum to remove this affront to freedom from the next Defense Authorization bill. Perhaps they could call it a Korematsu amendment.

Indefinite detention is one of the latest stains on our nation’s history, reminding many of Japanese internment during WWII. According to the Huffington Post, Senator Feinstein recently said “The federal government experimented with indefinite detention of U.S. citizens during World War II, a mistake we now recognize as a betrayal of our core values. Let’s not repeat it.”

Remembering Fred Korematsu

Sadly, the U.S. government has played the “detention without due process” idea before, with the most egregious example being the Japanese internment during WWII. Even more sadly, when given a chance to use its power to close the camps the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the other two branches. Here’s a brief history lesson from CIVIO – A Civil Rights Game:

Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1942 which ratified the order were enacted in response to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and resulted in the relocation and internment of 120,000 people of Japanese and Japanese-American descent. Fred Korematsu, an American citizen of Japanese descent, refused to go. The Court found the act to be constitutional and that Japanese-American citizens did in fact represent a threat to national security. The US government eventually issued a formal apology for internment and provided token financial restitution for affected families in 1988.

Justice Jackson in his dissenting opinion in Korematsu said, “[The] judicial construction of the due process clause that will sustain this [executive] order is a far more subtle blow to liberty than the promulgation of the order itself… the Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens. The principle then lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”

Indeed.

After the September 11th attacks, Muslim men, visitors and legal residents in the U.S. (ages 14 and up) from a group of “suspect” countries were ordered to report to immigration offices for “registration.” Many who willingly went to those offices were detained, virtually “disappeared,” in an episode that reminded too many people of what had happened to Japanese people during WWII. Among the many to jump into action demanding that innocent children and men be released were Japanese-Americans for whom the Bush Administration’s actions seemed all too familiar. When I learned what was going on I called my local news station and asked them why they weren’t covering the story. “Find us a family where someone has disappeared and we’ll cover it.” I was told by the head of the news desk. One call to a friend who runs a Muslim nonprofit agency netted me several families. Within two hours the story was being covered locally, and soon, the story had enough legs that it got nationwide attention. Fortunately there was enough of an outburst of outrage that most of the detainees were quickly released.

Have we learned from history? No. Despite all that we know, Congress still wrote language into a defense bill that allows indefinite detention, even for American citizens, with no right to even seek redress in a Federal court. President Obama has sworn that he won’t use this authority but the possibility exists for him or any future president to jail people at a whim, indefinitely, and we have to change the law to defend against that.

Senator Feinstein is joined by a fairly bipartisan list of backers for an amendment to eliminate the indefinite detention language from our laws. Rand Paul (R), a libertarian, according again to the Huffington Post article, pointed to a report from a center in Missouri and said: “From this fusion center comes a document that says beware of people who have bumper stickers supporting third party candidates. Do we want to give up the right to trial by jury when we’re being told that somebody who keeps food in their basement might be a terrorist?”

No. We don’t.

If you want to see an end to the potential for indefinite detention, please contact your senators and representatives in Congress and ask them to support Feinstein and Rand’s amendment. I will.

Guantanamo Bay:

Yes – dear readers! You will have rightly noted that another terrible example of indefinite detention can be found at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. While this story above focused on indefinite detention being possible for American citizens under current law, there are still over 150 people being detained in Guantanamo Bay with no end in site. This too, I believe, is wrong.

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Craig Wiesner is the co-founder of Reach And Teach, a peace and social justice learning company. Their very first product designed back in 2004 is called CIVIO – A Civil Rights Game. The image at the start of this post is the case card for Korematsu v US.

Reach And Teach also manages web operations and online sales for Tikkun/NSP.


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