Ever sit around with a hood over your head all day? No, I haven’t either. It may not sound that bad but putting hoods on prisoners was considered so barbaric the English discontinued the practice in 1696.

Hoods came briefly back into fashion in 1865. The country was gripped by hysteria following the Lincoln assassination and there was a spirit of vengeance in the air. Booth’s fellow conspirators, some guilty, some duped into helping him, were placed in irons and hooded.

Hoods were not used again on American prisoners until 2001. There are striking similarities between the treatment given the Lincoln conspirators and the detainees currently incarcerated in Iraq and Cuba.

The conspirators were considered to be “stateless” because the Confederacy had ceased to exist. And despite the fact the Civil War was over, a military court tried them. However, they had two advantages over the detainees: they were actually charged with crimes and afforded legal representation.

Still, the proceedings were conducted in secret, until a disgusted General Grant asked the president to open them to the public. Visitors were then allowed and the hoods were removed.

Bedrock American freedoms were ignored during the Civil War and its aftermath. The same thing is happening during the so-called war on terror. I never thought I’d see people detained by the U.S. without being charged.I never imagined that we would torture these detainees and ignore the Geneva Convention. Secret prisons, CIA kidnappings, prisoners dying during interrogation ” what kind of country have we become?

I’m from that crazy school of thought that believes the worse the crime; the greater care should be taken that the defendant’s rights aren’t violated. This was the attitude of the Allies, when they tried Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. Those defendants were accused of far worse crimes than terrorists. But we didn’t mistreat them in custody or trample their rights in court.

Maybe, we’ve forgotten the excesses of 1865 and the positive lessons of Nuremberg. Thankfully, though, our shameful treatment of detainees has awakened some of our leaders. An anti-torture amendment has been added to a bill. The Supreme Court has recognized that the detainees deserve their day in court.

The administration opposes these changes. They argue that the CIA should be exempt from the laws that apply to the rest of us Americans. Don’t they realize that every time they take a freedom away from an “enemy combatant” they’re jeopardizing the freedom of law-abiding citizens?

I believe they have been so wrongheaded in their treatment of detainees that they’ve awakened a renewed dedication to the protection of human rights. As Senator Dick Durbin said, “There’s a shadow over our nation that needs lifting.” Let’s start with the hoods.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.