Detainees: a new word in the American vernacular. I hate it. It means people who are being held uncharged for unknown reasons in unknown places for unknown periods by branches of U.S. law enforcement, including the CIA and our military.

The more we hear the word and get used to it, the more okay it sounds. But it's not okay. People who are arrested on good evidence are charged with a crime and appear in a courtroom, with representation, to respond. They are called the accused, or more properly, defendants.

The president argues that "enemy combatants" are not entitled to due process. But how does he determine who is an enemy combatant? An account from someone who rounded up a group of suspects, or a report from someone who heard the account? Is there a judicial hearing in each case, or does the president just sign his name below a group of names submitted to him by some unaccountable entity, which makes a "defendant" a "detainee," with all rights suspended without his knowledge of the charge or the process by which he will be "disappeared"?

A defendant is one thing; a prisoner of war, with internationally accepted guidelines for treatment, is another. A detainee is someone stripped of everything and shut away indefinitely by fiat. It is not a concept or term we should have become so familiar with. It's ugly. May the term find disfavor and disappear from our language.


Columbia, Mo.