In 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, an act that authorized the indefinite detention of "Americans of Japanese ancestry." As a result, over 110,000 Japanese Americans residing on the West Coast were forced from their homes and imprisoned without trial in overcrowded and unsanitary internment camps. Because of their race, these Americans lost their freedom to the specter of a national security threat.
Sixty years later, President Obama appeared to have forgotten the lessons of the internment when he signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act ("NDAA), a law that authorizes indefinite military detention without trial, arguably even of U.S. citizens. The NDAA's detention provisions do not require the military to allege that detained persons committed a crime, or even that they caused any harm or threat of harm to the U.S. Under the law's draconian provisions, mere allegation of membership in or "substantial support" of an un-defined set of alleged terrorist groups can be the basis for indefinite detention. Succumbing to the fears that have plagued our nation, the president and Congress once again placed an ill-conceived national security measure ahead of tried-and-true principles of civil liberty.
Fortunately, an increasing number of states have stood up against the NDAA by introducing legislation that condemns the law as unconstitutional and prohibits state officials from aiding the military in any attempt to invoke its indefinite detention authority. Last Tuesday, California became the third state to enact such legislation -- with near unanimous support from both legislative houses and the governor.
The passage of California's law against indefinite detention under the NDAA sends a simple message to the federal government: we, the citizens of California, have not forgotten our constitutional rights. We have learned through bitter experience that American justice should never involve locking people up indefinitely based on vague suspicions.
The Japanese American internment is almost universally condemned today. In 1988, Congress enacted and President Reagan signed a law that apologized for that "fundamental injustice" and provided restitution to the surviving victims. Indefinite detention is as wrong today as it was in 1942. Let's hope that today's president gets the message California has sent.
Deputy Legal Director, ACLU SoCal
Wednesday, 8 October 2013