JACL, Feinstein Oppose Indefinite Detention

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Rep. John Garamendi with Lorraine Bannai, director of the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality.

WASHINGTON — The JACL is supporting the Due Process Guarantee Act, a response to the National Defense Authorization Act signed into law by President Obama at the end of last year.

The NDAA contains provisions that may allow for indefinite military detention of any terrorist suspect apprehended on U.S. soil.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) introduced the Due Process Guarantee Act, which protects the rights of American citizens and legal permanent residents. The JACL said that it appreciates this first step, but would like to see a bill protecting the rights of all people.

On Feb. 29, Feinstein and the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Due Process Guarantee Act. Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) were all present.

The hearing’s panel of experts included Reps. Garamendi and Jeff Landry (R-La.), Professor Stephen Vladeck of American University’s Washington College of Law and Steven G. Bradbury, former acting assistant attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Professor Lorraine Bannai, director of the Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law and a member of the legal team that reopened Korematsu v. United States, also gave testimony. She drew upon the experiences of the Japanese American community during World War II as an example of the dangers of suspending basic rights.

Bannai opened her statement by saying, “As a third-generation Japanese American whose parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles were incarcerated at Manzanar in the California Mojave Desert during World War II, I appear before you to reflect on the important lessons I hope this country has learned from that dark chapter in our nation’s history. We know now what Japanese Americans always knew — that their imprisonment was unlawful; that it was not based on military necessity; and that it occurred because we, as a country, chose to sacrifice fundamental rights characteristic of a nation of laws even as we were fighting to preserve those rights on the battlefield. “

The Japanese American incarceration has become a focal point of the debate around indefinite detention, inside and out of the Japanese American community. JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori spoke to this in a San Francisco Chronicle article about Feinstein’s bill:

“When we hear about indefinite detention today, the promise is that we’re not going to do what was done in 1942. That may be well and good, but one never knows who will administer and interpret this particular piece of law.”

In an op-ed piece in the Chronicle last December, Feinstein wrote, “When I was a child, my father took me to the Tanforan Racetrack near San Francisco. The track was a ‘civilian assembly center,’ a staging point for detainees en route to more permanent ‘relocation centers’ in rural California, Arizona and Utah.

“Seeing the barbed wire, finding the detainees housed in horse stables and small buildings on the infield, was a singular experience in my life. Years later, the events remain a dark stain on our history …

“Sometimes, however, even the most shameful acts of government fade too quickly from our national consciousness. During Senate debate over the National Defense Authorization Act this month, there was fierce argument to reinstate a policy of indefinite detention of American citizens …

“Experiences over the last decade prove the country is safer now than before the 9/11 attacks. Terrorists are behind bars, dangerous plots have been thwarted. The system is working.

“We must clarify U.S. law to state unequivocally that the government cannot indefinitely detain American citizens inside this country without trial or charge.”

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