WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said Tuesday it could continue to imprison non-U.S. citizens indefinitely even if they have been acquitted of terrorism charges by a U.S. military commission.
Jeh Johnson, the Defense Department's chief lawyer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that releasing a detainee who has been tried and found not guilty was a policy decision that officials would make based on their estimate of whether the prisoner posed a future threat.
Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration argues that the legal basis for indefinite detention of aliens it considers dangerous is separate from war-crimes prosecutions. Officials say that the laws of war allow indefinite detention to prevent aliens from committing warlike acts in future, while prosecution by military commission aims to punish them for war crimes committed in the past.
Johnson said such prisoners held without trial would receive "some form of periodic review" that could lead to their release.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a leading Republican on detainee policy, approved. "Some of them will be able to get out of jail because they've rehabilitated themselves and some of them may in fact die in jail," Graham said. But "I don't want to put people in a dark hole forever" simply "because somebody like Dick Cheney, or you fill in the blank with a politician, said so."
Also at the hearing, Obama administration officials differed with the Navy's senior uniformed lawyer over whether coerced statements should be used to convict Guantanamo defendants.