Overwhelming majority oppose preventive detention without charges

A new NYT/CBS poll contains some startling results on detainee treatment.

Published June 18, 2009 1:19PM (EDT)

A new NYT/CBS News poll just released today asked a question designed to test support for Obama's proposal to indefinitely detain Guantanamo detainees without charges -- and it found overwhelming opposition to that plan (click to enlarge):

The view that detainees should be charged with crimes or released is often depicted as the fringe "Far Left" view.  Like so many views that are similarly depicted, it is -- in reality -- the overwhelming consensus view among Americans (68%).  As is so often the case, it is the view depicted as the Serious Centrist position -- the U.S. should keep people in cages for as long as it wants without charging them with any crime -- that is the fringe view held by only a small minority (24%).  While some may express surprise at the outcome of this question, it really shouldn't be surprising:  Americans are taught from childhood that one of the primary distinctions between free countries and tyrannies is that, in the former, the state lacks the power to imprison people without charging and convicting them of a crime.  Is it really that surprising that an overwhelming majority of Americans see such charge-free imprisonment as wrong even when it comes to Guantanamo detainees, probably the single most dehumanized group on the planet?

Along the same lines -- and for the same reason -- Obama is clearly winning the debate over whether to close Guantanamo, as more and more Americans (now a clear plurality) favor its closing as the debate progresses (click to enlarge):

If the right arguments are made about adherence to these values, they obviously resonate.  It would be good if the President who campaigned on a platform to restore those values would make such arguments more often, and even better still if he ceased advocating policies -- indefinite preventive detention -- that so violently undermine them.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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