The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law late last year allowing for infinite detention of terror suspects without trial or even charges being brought against them. Senator Dianne Feinstein waged unrelenting war on the practice of arresting and imprisoning suspects without trial. After failing to get a due process clause into the NDAA, she finally settled on a compromise amendment.

Feinstein’s amendment, which is supported by a coalition of Democrat and Republican senators, seeks to protect citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States from certain indefinite military detention — but only them. It would require Congress to expressly authorize any military detention of these categories of people in any future authorizations for military force or declarations of war. But it remains silent as to all others, implying that the executive branch is free to detain others inside the U.S. at will. – Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel and advocate

The 5th Amendment to the Constitution reads, “No person shall be… deprived of… liberty… without due process of law.” Note the word “person” not “citizen.” Even if our nation never really put the amendment into practice, it reminds us that we once believed that for a nation to be great it must protect universal human rights, not just the rights of its own citizens.

It is possible I am self-deceived. It is possible our nation never cared about anyone unfortunate to be born outside our boundaries, but I seem to remember a time when obeying international law was what distinguished civilized nations from rouge states. I seem to remember a day when my nation claimed to be a champion of human rights.

It is easy to say we are safer if we treat terror suspects as non-humans, but the test of ethics is how we would feel if the same principle were used on us. To illustrate the point, imagine the following scene:

It is 1929. Al Capone has been difficult to bring to justice so the President sends planes over Chicago suburbs to bomb suspected hideouts. Every day innocent civilians killed, hospitals bombed or children injured, but they are considered collateral damage in the pursuit of justice. Possible suspects are rounded up and imprisoned without trial, again in the pursuit of justice.

My point is, we would never treat Americans that way. So, what principle allows us to wave due process for others? How can we call “justice” for others, what we would call “injustice” for ourselves?