The US Government Has a Long History of Using Crises to Justify Indefinite Mass DetentionHistorians in the News
tags: civil liberties, national emergency, detention, habeas corpus, coronavirus
This is, according to Andrea Pitzer, an expert on mass detention and author of One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, exactly the climate that could lead a country down a path it may eventually regret. It often begins, Pitzer said, with clearly defined and reasonable goals—apprehending terror suspects, say, or containing a disease—and then devolves into something very different.
“Humanity has a long history of using indefinite detention without trial to do horrific things,” Pitzer told Quartz. “With such broad powers and a lack of accountability, [and] given the president’s current aggressive bending of law to detain asylum seekers, it’s hard to imagine any vulnerable community in the US that wouldn’t be at risk in this situation over time.”
In the most recent example, under its so-called zero-tolerance immigration policy, the Trump administration has been detaining asylum seekers and other migrants, including children, as they wait for their cases to make their way through immigration courts. Those courts are overworked and understaffed, meaning some migrants are already facing what is essentially indefinite detention.
To give another recent example, in response to the 9/11 terror attacks, the George W. Bush administration implemented a policy that allowed the US to detain enemy combatants without trial, a practice that continued under president Barack Obama. Trump’s Justice Department, meanwhile, argued last year in a Supreme Court filing that there is nothing preventing the US from holding “one of its own citizens” indefinitely if they are suspected of terrorism.
During WWII, US president Franklin Roosevelt established the War Relocation Authority, which sent at least 110,000 people of Japanese heritage, most of them American citizens, to internment camps. The “enemy,” in this case, was an entire race that posed no actual threat to national security.
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