“Life, Liberty, and Property”

“LIFE, LIBERTY, AND PROPERTY”….This is nothing new, but the Brandon Mayfield case has me thinking about due process again. By holding Mayfield as a “material witness,” the government is allowed to hold him as long as they want without ever charging him with a crime:

Under Attorney General John Ashcroft, prosecutors have often used the category as one way to hold terror suspects indefinitely when they don’t have enough evidence to charge them with a crime. Justice officials insist that more than half of the detained material witnesses have ended up in criminal prosecutions. “Typically, they lie to you after you detain them so you can always get them on false statements,” says one former Justice official.

Gee, more than half, eh? That’s comforting.

Like civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to deprive people of property even if they’re found innocent of any wrongdoing, material witness detention allows the government to deprive people of liberty without even going as far as bringing charges at all. It may be that the Fifth Amendment says that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” but these days “life” sems to be the only part of the clause still standing.

This isn’t a partisan issue, and it predates John Ashcroft. It just seems like something worth bringing up every once in a while.