Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

SENATE VOTES 93-7 TO ALLOW INDEFINITE MILITARY DETENTION OF U.S. CITIZENS WITHOUT CHARGE OR TRIAL

The fate of the Bill of Rights now lies with President Obama and his threat to veto what can only be described as one of the most terrifying pieces of legislation ever to be passed by the United States Senate.

That august body has just voted nearly unanimously to allow the indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial, shredding the Sixth Amendment and its right to trial and placing every single one of us on notice that we better watch what we say and do and who we support because we could now be considered terrorists and locked up indefinitely in some military hellhole like the concentration camp down in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

I am not exaggerating. Here’s arch-conservative Tea Party darling Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) take on what just happened: “It puts every single American citizen at risk.” And on the other side of the political spectrum, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said it “denigrates the very foundations of this country.”

“This bill is an historic threat to American citizens,” said ACLU senior legislative counsel Christopher Anders.

How could this happen? Buried deep inside the hundreds of pages of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act are a couple of shocking provisions, authored in secret by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that:

  • Explicitly authorize the federal government to indefinitely imprison without charge or trial civilians apprehended both inside and outside the United States.
  •  Mandate military detention of some civilians who would otherwise be outside of military control, including suspects apprehended within the United States itself.
  •  Transfer to the Department of Defense core prosecutorial, investigative, law enforcement, penal, and custodial authority and responsibility now held by the Department of Justice.

The only “silver lining,” if one can call it such, is that the military isn’t forced to detain American citizens without trial, it’s merely allowed to.

The Senate has officially declared the entire United States to be a battleground. And you and I are potential enemies. According to the new law, anyone– including U.S. citizens– who the government says is “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force” must (for foreigners) or can (U.S. citizens) be imprisoned by the military “without trial until the end of… hostilities.” Hostilities which, as Wired’s Spencer Ackerman so eloquently observed, “are currently scheduled to end the Wednesday after never.”

Now, this begs the question: exactly who is considered to be a member of al-Qaeda or “an associated force?” What if you support an organization dedicated to the Palestinian liberation struggle against Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing? Such groups can and are often labeled as terrorist organizations by our government which, after all, is beholden to pro-Zionist interests.

Thanks to the Senate, the government can now imprison any American it says is a terrorist for as long as it wants, without having to prove anything in court. Said Sen. Franken:

“What we are talking about here is that Americans could be subjected to life imprisonment. Think about that for a minute. Life imprisonment. Without ever being charged, tried, or convicted of a crime. Without ever having an opportunity to prove your innocence to a judge or a jury of your peers. And without the government ever having to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I think that denigrates the very foundations of this country.”

Tellingly, this bill was almost universally opposed at the highest levels of the military and intelligence community. From Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to CIA Director David Petraeus to FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a veritable who’s-who of our nation’s top terror warriors has rejected this very un-American bill.

Even Fox News Channel’s legal analyst, former Judge Andrew Napolitano, denounced the measure (see video below).

The Senate vote, by the way, was 93 for, 7 against. Those seven champions of liberty (for the moment) were:

  • Sen. Thomas Coburn (R-OK)
  • Sen. Thomas Harkin (D-IA)
  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-OK)
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
  • Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT)
  • Sen. Ronald Wyden (D-OR)

Heroes, all of them (for the moment)– and their heroism was tellingly bi-partisan. But wait a minute– Sen Al Franken, who spoke so passionately against this heinous bill, voted for it. So did such erstwhile progressive luminaries such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-NJ), and Mark Udall (D-CO), who bravely fought a failed last-ditch effort to have the most odious provisions of the bill stricken. So did Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who unsuccessfully sought an exception to the provisions regarding the detention of American citizens. Perhaps that “silver lining” I mentioned earlier– that the bill no longer requires but only allows the indefinite military detention of American citizens– swayed them towards their reprehensible “yes” votes. Or maybe the senators just didn’t want to vote against the $662 billion defense bill, for everyone knows that voting against “national security” is touching the third rail of American politics.

One thing is certain: if President Obama does not carry through with his threat to veto this abhorrent measure, the United States will have turned its back on one of the most basic and cherished rights guaranteed in our Constitution. And we will have taken a giant step in the direction of totalitarianism. You’ve been warned.

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8 Comments

  1. Chuck HenryDecember 7, 2011 at 9:11 pmReply

    One of my favorite movie quotes from “Quiz Show”, Charles Van Doren confessing to his father his anxiety about testifying to Congress, his father responds “What are you worrying about, they’re not exactly Washington & Lincoln down there anymore”.

    How true… aside from a handful of Senators who have actually read the Constitution and understand why we have it, the rest are craven unprincipled weasels. We have to decide as citizens whether we’re willing to discard our liberties for the illusion of security. Time is growing short.

  2. Adam PratoDecember 11, 2011 at 3:00 pmReply

    This is absolutely disgusting. I bet even weasels are more civic-minded than our Congress.

  3. bebeDecember 15, 2011 at 1:23 pmReply

    I think that all members of congress who have turned their back on the US Constitution should be tried for treasonous activities. OMG does that make ME an enemy of the STATE now?

    • Brett WilkinsDecember 15, 2011 at 2:58 pmReplyAuthor

      Yup. Better start packing for GITMO. I hear it gets pretty chilly down there this time of year…

      • JoeDecember 16, 2011 at 3:33 pmReply

        Brett,
        If you think GITMO is chilly, wait until you end up in one of the FEMA camps.

  4. Winston SmithDecember 15, 2011 at 2:05 pmReply

    I’ll bet that old Senator Joe McCarthy would be beside himself with joy! They don’t even need a hearing to destroy lives (and, thereby, the Country)anymore!

  5. Pastor emeritus Nathan BickelDecember 15, 2011 at 9:31 pmReply

    This unpatriotic action is, really no surprise – especially when (by and large) the gutless House and Senate politicians are complacent with Obama’s unconstitutional non natural born citizen [bogus] presidency. They’ve already sold the soul of our Constitutional Republic. Why now hesitate any further Throw it off the political bus……..

  6. RogerDecember 17, 2011 at 10:21 amReply

    I would note one Bernie Sanders of VT. Bernie may turn off conservatives by his progressive self described socialist stance, but political conservatives when looking more closely will find a friend on many issues including civil libertarianism and he is probably more true to conservative (unlike political conservatives) than many in the Republican Party.

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