Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGNS NDAA AUTHORIZING INDEFINITE MILITARY DETENTION OF AMERICAN CITIZENS WITHOUT CHARGE OR TRIAL

Indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial is now Obama's biggest legacy.

President Obama has signed a broad, $662 billion national defense bill that authorizes the indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial. In doing so, he has broken yet another promise— perhaps his biggest broken promise of all– and shredded the Constitutional rights and protections that Americans have enjoyed for most of the past 220 years.

He waited until a Saturday to sign this horrific measure. Not just any Saturday, mind you, New Year’s Eve Saturday, when neither the media or the American public were paying much attention.

He did it from far-off Hawaii, where he is enjoying a $4 million taxpayer-funded vacation.

He expressed his “serious reservations” about the most controversial provisions of the bill in a signing statement accompanying his signature.

He vowed that his administration would never, ever authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.

But what’s a promise from Barack Obama worth?

His is, after all, a presidency defined by broken promises. In his inaugural address, Obama implored Americans to “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” On the campaign trail in 2007, he asserted that “we are not a nation that locks people up without charging them.”

Now we are.

Obama even threatened to veto the odious bill he just signed into law. Not because he was concerned about the erosion of our civil liberties that will surely result from this terrifying piece of law, but rather because he feared losing executive power in determining which terrorism suspects would be subject to military custody.

To be fair, Obama does not deserve all the ‘credit’ for making indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial the new American way. It was Congress that overwhelmingly voted to approve the $662 billion  2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), of which the troubling provisions are but a minute portion, and they did it on Bill of Rights Day, of all occasions. The measure also funds our troops, penalizes Iran’s central bank and freezes some $700 million in military aid to Pakistan, among many other things.

The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA officially declares 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.

Our 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. Al Franken (D-MN):

“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, what little opposition there was to the bill was bi-partisan in nature, with arch-conservative lawmakers like Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) joining with socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in condemning the indefinite detention provisions.

Some alterations were made to the bill, notably dropping the provision that requires military detention for U.S. citizens and replacing it with language that allows rather than mandates indefinite detention (not much of a change at all). This is why Obama abandoned his veto threat.

The NDAA 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.

Retired Admiral John Hutson, the Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) from 1997-2000, said that passage of the bill is a victory for the terrorists. ”The enemy is just laughing over this, because they will have gotten another victory,”Hutson told The Huffington Post. “It is a victory… for the enemy. And it’s a self-inflicted wound.”

Charles C. Crulak and Joseph P. Hoar, retired U.S. four-star generals, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which they declared that “due process would be a thing of the past” if the bill passed.

In signing the NDAA into law, President Obama issued a signing statement explaining how his administration plans to implement the measure.

“My administration will not authorize the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens,” he wrote. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law,” he added.

Even if Obama is to be believed (and that is highly doubtful considering his woeful record of broken promises), what happens when some future Republican administration decides to interpret the law in a more aggressive fashion?

Civil liberties groups are, of course, shocked and furious.

“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a media release. “The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.  The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.”

“We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court,” Romero added. “Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today.”

Today, the United States has turned its back  on due process, one of the most basic and cherished rights guaranteed in our Constitution. The Fifth Amendment states that “no person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Kiss that goodbye, as well as First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association, Fourth Amendment protections against “unreasonable search and seizure,” the Sixth Amendment right to “a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury” and Eighth Amendment prohibitions on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

If America does become a totalitarian state sometime in the future, President Obama’s tragic decision to sign the NDAA will go down as a turning point that allowed the unthinkable to become reality.

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One Comment

  1. WakakoJanuary 3, 2012 at 12:20 pmReply

    sure sounds like the Japanese American internment to me.

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