We learn very little from our war experience, for example, whether from Vietnam or Iraq. One lesson that appears to be a constant is that the measures we take against the enemy in a war soon find their way into our domestic politics as well. That is why it was neither vain nor foolish for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to filibuster against the confirmation of John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency until there was some assurance, however parsed and halting, that the armed drones, a favorite weapon of the CIA, would not be used against U.S. citizens on American soil.
Decades ago, Congress passed a law barring the CIA from taking part in domestic law-enforcement operations. Yet some local law-enforcement agencies have been happy to receive assistance from the CIA, as well as the FBI. We have gotten used to accounts of secret "black hole" prisons operated by the CIA in parts of Europe that used to be controlled by the Soviet Union. It is sad to think of the old Soviet Union still operating under new management from Washington, D.C., or Langley, Virginia, but it no doubt seemed that way to the prisoners.
We have also gotten used to the president or the Congress, or both, adhering to the tyrannical principle that the government may hold a terrorist suspect, even a U.S. citizen, indefinitely, without a charge and without a trial, by the simple expedient of having him declared by the president an "enemy combatant." He might be held as a "material witness," as the conspirator in some real or imagined criminal plot, or simply someone suspected of cooperating with al-Qaeda or an affiliated organization. With no charge lodged against him, the suspect (we may not even call him "the accused") has no way of claiming his constitutional right to a speedy trial. (A trial? On what charge?) And the government that imprisons him can ignore his right to a writ of habeas corpus.
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