Indefinite Detention – Tragedy or Necessity?

This article deals with the moral nature of indefinite detention and whether it has a place in modern incarceration.


Since its ratification in 1791, The Bill of Rights has been the basis of American society. It contains and indicates laws necessary for securing citizens’ basic human rights, liberties seeked by those in the past who were under the tyrannical thumb of the British. Nevertheless, in recent years the U.S government has abandoned certain aspects of this document. During September 11, 2001, a band of terrorists committed abhorrent atrocities and unfortunately instilled fear within the hearts of many Americans. Subsequently, President George W. Bush introduced indefinite detention which aimed at reducing threats targeting the American public. Indefinite detention enables the government to imprison any individual on the basis that the person may be dangerous. This unequivocally contradicts the 5th amendment which states that no being may be deprived of liberty without due process of the law. Granted, citizens need protection from acts of terror; nonetheless, time has demonstrated indefinite detention to be an inefficient and harmful solution.

The Case Against Indefinite Detention

When government officials receive unchecked power, corruption, and abuse of one’s political position tend to occur. Politicians may take advantage of their newfound influence for a multitude of reasons, ranging from wanting to satisfy their own selfish desires, to wishing for a better society, and now having the capability to help create one. Consider Operation Condor, a covert enterprise led by South American military dictatorships and backed by the U.S. It first aimed at suppressing and removing socialist movements within Latin America. However, after realizing the immense power bestowed upon them by the U.S supporting their actions, Operation Condor’s “anticommunist crusade”, quickly became “a crusade against the principles and institutions of democracy”. Dictators labeled any criticism against their government as harboring ideals of communism and left-wing ideology. These actions led to the political as well as the economic instability of multiple nations for decades and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Similar to Operation Condor, indefinite detention opens the door for political corruption. With the unbidden authority to detain and restrain those at will, the president has the authority silence political opposition. If the President walked down this path, the nation’s principles of democracy and freedom would be eroded or at least impaired. Additionally, due to the immense power of the U.S. Army/Government, the world itself could encounter a fate that mirrors that of countries who took part in Operation Condor; a fate in which civil conflict and human rights violations is plentiful,  culminating into a period characterized by a lack of economic and political progress. Past governments have indicated that when power has the ability to be abused, it often is; therefore, the American people and public officials should focus on reducing the number of plausible scenarios in which power can be manipulated, in order to reduce corruption and negative ramifications.

In addition, indefinite detention causes the suffering of countless innocent individuals. Immediately after it was implemented, indefinite detention incarcerated a number of civilians across the world for fear they were collaborating with Islamic militants. This paranoia later proved to be unwarranted as a number of former detainees were declared not-guilty. Nevertheless, before authorities corrected such mistakes, interrogators subjected prisoners to routine abuse in hopes of acquiring information. This is best illustrated by the case of Murat Kurnaz. After studying Islam in Pakistan, Kurnaz attempted to return home by means of air travel; however, while Kurnaz awaited his flight, Pakistani police suddenly apprehended him. Pakistani officials then sold him to the U.S government and he later became “classified as an enemy combatant”(Source B). Shortly after, Kurnaz was transported to Guantanamo Bay and remained there for approximately 5 years. While withheld within the infamous penitentiary, Kurnaz recounts daily acts of abuse and torture inflicted by the sites interrogators. He once stated that the torment was so horrid that after military personnel would assault him, “a doctor looked in to see if you were alive”. These events have been observed by the public and have led to a lack of trust and respect for a country who advertises themselves as the leader in human rights, the champion of fairness, the bringer of equality, yet behind the scenes, commits horrific deeds all in the name of “protecting the people”. An attempt to restore traditional American values should be made. One in which, logic and reasoning, not emotion dictate law. One in which the government sees an individual as exactly that – an individual – not a collective. Lastly, one in which public officials do not attempt to justify the callous torturing of innocent civilians as simply a “necessary evil”.


Those for indefinite detention often proclaim it to be justified, as it allows the government to detain a subsection of terrorists, who are known to be dangerous yet render the U.S’ many tribunals helpless. The infamous example supporting this argument is, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He was the mastermind behind the attacks during 9/11, which took the lives of approximately 2753 Americans and caused $200 billion in damages. Further interrogation revealed he had also planned to ‘“destroy the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting the suspension cables’’’. To this day, Mohammed has remained in Guantanamo Bay and will likely stay there indefinitely. On one hand, it is true that indefinite detention has been a helpful tool in detaining Mohammed, however, this is only due to all usable evidence against him being tainted by the “brutal methods employed to obtain it”(Source D). This reveals the paradoxical nature of indefinite detention, it is only required when it has already been placed into action. In addition, prosecutors have introduced new ways of arranging terrorists, this includes material support which allows the government to indict those who are “attending terrorist training camps, attempting to provide medical aid to injured fighters, and even supplying funds for the humanitarian activities of designated terrorist groups”. As a result of improved practices in the prosecution of potential terrorists, indefinite detention is nowadays redundant and unnecessarily inhumane. Indefinite detention was the result of intense, yet understandable emotion emerging from both the people and those that represented them, dictating legislation which would greatly affect hundreds of lives. Nonetheless, the dust has now settled, the tears have been shed, and the time has now come for officials and the public alike to decide whether to admit their faults and further progress, or remain steadfast in their ideological beliefs and suffer the devastating consequences.

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