16 December 2004

Detention Slips

… will no longer be enough in England. The Law Lords have ruled that the UK indefinite-detention-of-"enemy"-aliens provision passed by the British in response to 9/11 is inconsistent with EU human rights law. The procedural irony is that this does not result in the voiding of the law under the present British court system. The Law Lords, as presently constituted, do not have the power to do so! Although the UK is moving toward what they are calling a "US-style Supreme Court," that power will remain in abeyance.

As an aside, I find it difficult to credit a court as being "US-style" without a judicial review component comparable to Article II. That is, defiance of court decisions must be independently punishable without more—including declarations of unlawfulness of a statute. One might object that such is exactly what the UK is now doing: Parliament must go back in and amend the statute in question so that it meets the objections stated by the Law Lords. There's just one small problem, though. Under the US system, and logically under any criminal-law system that does not rely upon common-law offenses, during periods for which there is no statutory authority the government may not take (or continue) such actions. In short, the declaration of unlawfulness should not allow the Home Secretary to administratively, by fiat, declare that he's going to maintain the status quo until Parliament fixes the law; and it should not allow the Bush Administration to do so, either. In any event, read Professor Froomkin's analysis; if anything, he's too soft. Too, nobody is looking at the enforcement history of other US civil-rights decisions, such as the aftermath of Brown and Baker; comparing those to the Detainee Trilogy should lead to some interesting, and disturbing, questions about whether the Bush Administration has in fact rejected the rule of law at more than just the policy level.

In any event, this is an interesting decision in that, unlike the Detainee Trilogy, the mandate on the substance is clear. As I noted in my discussion, I believe that the Detainee Trilogy is ultimately more about civil procedure than civil rights. To say the least, this is disheartening, in a historical sense; the nations in Europe that both have bonded together and have the longest (if not necessarily most-vicious) history of totalitarianism got to the substance before we did here in the Land of the Free. And the more one sees about the considerable dismay at detainee treatment within the intelligence community and even among now-retired military officers, the more one must question exactly what the purpose of the detention system really is. It's clearly not intelligence-gathering; any data that these individuals provide at this late date will be stale (and so stale that corroboration will be difficult, if not impossible) and most probably already available from and corroborated by other sources.