In the last few days there have been some very troubling developments, both here in Australia and in the U.S., regarding the infringement of personal liberty and the degradation of democratic principles.
In the U.S., since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, there has been much controversy surrounding the detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are being held indefinitely and without charge. Now it appears that the ability of the state to arbitrarily detain people is being extended not just to foreign suspects captured on foreign soil, but also to U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil. According to this article from the Washington Post, a federal appeals court has ruled that the President has the authority to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil, without charge.
At home, according to this article from the ABC, a U.S. peace activist has been arrested and faces deportation. No charges have been laid against him and no reason has been given for his deportation.
Both of these developments, especially the former since it deals with a country’s own citizens, are very troubling. One of the fundamental tenets of democracy is the existence of a transparent judicial system in which people may not be punished for a crime unless proven guilty, have the right to know what they are accused of, and have the right to defend themselves against accusations. Throughout recent history, the breakdown of these fundamental rights has typically preceded transitions to totalitarianism. While I sincerely hope that this is not the case now, these developments give much credence to the many critics who claim that current anti-terrorism laws are being used as a pretext for expanded state control over the individual.