Timely 18th-century legal issues
I’ve been watching the TV series Garrow’s Law, with stories based upon actual trials in which William Garrow (later Sir William Garrow) acted as barrister for the defense. It was Garrow who coined the phrase (and perhaps the concept) of “innocent until proven guilty” and who instituted many aspects of defense pleading that we now take for granted—until we can’t take them for granted.
The 4th (and final) episode of the first season seemed particularly timely. It was about whether the government could arrest and imprison a person with no charges filed and keep him locked up indefinitely. The principle established was that it could not be done, that citizens have a right to lead their lives and speak their minds and to meet as they want. The US, of course, has now abandoned that principle and its citizens can be arrested and imprisoned indefinitely merely on suspicion, with no charges filed. England was able to settle the issue because the person eventually went to trial (charge: high treason, similar in some respects to terrorism), whereas in the United States trials are generally denied on the grounds of “state secrets”, which sometimes includes the charges/evidence upon which the person was imprisoned.
Of course, the US is also happy to keep imprisoned some whom it admits have done nothing wrong, but, hey! they’re in prison, so we’ll just keep them there. I refer, of course, to those prisoners in Guantánamo whom the US now admits were not terrorists but totally innocent people. But still they are kept in prison.
I don’t like that. Watch that 4th episode some time. There are very good arguments against this sort of practice.
BTW, you notice that Obama has completely abandoned his promise that he would close Guantánamo? Probably good to keep it so people can clearly see what the US has become. (Charlie Savage has a good story about the ugly side of that.)