New HRI Group Opposes Preventative Detention

Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute has formed the Detention Without Trial Working Group (DWTWG) to counter supporters of specialized terror courts and long-term preventative detention of terrorism suspects.

Winter 2009

The group also hopes to influence President Obama’s administration, which will be confronted with key decisions about future treatment of terror detainees.

The effort, coordinated at Columbia by the co-director of the Law School’s Human Rights Institute, Professor Sarah H. Cleveland, includes two partner organizations: the Center for American Progress and the National Litigation Project at Yale Law School.

“Much of the intellectual energy in legal academia has been devoted to developing proposals for national security courts and the long-term detention of terrorism suspects,” said Cleveland, the Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights. “The goal of our working group has been to encourage scholarly thinking, research, and debate as an intellectual counterweight to the pending reform proposals, and to provide scholarly guidance to the advocacy community.”

The DWTWG is comprised of legal academics as well as experts from other fields, including the U.S. military and the FBI. Together, they are exploring the legal and policy implications of current proposals for the detention without trial of terrorism suspects, Cleveland said.

Cleveland and other members of the working group met with members of the Obama transition team and incoming administration officials in mid-December to discuss issues surrounding the closure of Guantanamo. Working group members urged the transition team to conduct a broad, independent review of the basis for holding the 200-plus remaining detainees, and to capitalize on the Obama administration’s international goodwill by using all diplomatic tools at the administration’s disposal to secure receiving states for most of the detainees. On the president’s second day in office, he issued an executive order to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

The DWTWG has issued more policy recommendations for the new presidential administration, including calls to end existing military commissions and specialized terror courts and to apply a zero-tolerance rule regarding torture and cruelty.