Indefinite detention of US citizens? Yes We Can!

While we were out celebrating on New Year Eve, our vacationing President quietly signed the National Defense Authorization Act.  Normally this is no cause for alarm as an NDAA Bill is a yearly Bill which authorizes general military funding.  This year was different.  This year the Bill contained a provision which gives the President of the United States the power to detain terror suspects captured anywhere in the world, even if they are U.S. citizens on US soil, and hold them indefinitely without charges or trial.  How’s that for bringing in the New Year?

Why should Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists care about this?  Isn’t it just aimed at terrorists?  That depends on the increasingly subjective term ‘terrorist suspect.’  Not convicted terrorists, suspected terrorists or suspicion of being a terror sympathizer.  Could you become a suspect for having more than seven days of food stored in your home?  Yes, you could.  Paying cash for a hotel room can also place you on a watch list.  Could simply being part of a marginalized and misunderstood minority, such as Paganism, make you a target?  Glenn Greenwald, a former civil rights attorney and current Salon columnist, had this to say about who governments typically target when they are looking to expand their power, “Typically, new powers are often applied in ways that people will feel comfortable with. So if the government wants to restrict speech they will pick the most hated person in the society and restrict their speech and nobody will care…The problem is that these things proliferate far beyond their original applications, in every instance that’s true. Historically, that’s how power functions.”

A more concrete way Pagans could come under the eye of the Department of Homeland Security is to be part of, or show sympathy for, the Occupy movement.  Although it has been local law enforcement that has cleared out Occupy camps and arrests protestors, it is the Department of Homeland Security that is directing and coordinating the actions to suppress the movement. 

… according to Rick Ellis at the Examiner, a Justice Department official says that the recent evictions of Occupy movement across the country including Salt Lake City,Denver,Portland,Oakland, and New York City were “coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.”

Author and political consultant Naomi Wolf detailed her experience being arrested during an Occupy protest in an interview with the Guardian.  The most troubling aspect of her experience, and there were many, was the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement.

Another scary outcome I discovered is that, when the protesters marched to the first precinct, the whole of Erickson Street was cordoned off – “frozen” they were told, “by Homeland Security”. Obviously if DHS now has powers to simply take over a New York City street because of an arrest for peaceable conduct by a middle-aged writer in an evening gown, we have entered a stage of the closing of America, which is a serious departure from our days as a free republic in which municipalities are governed by police forces.

Another activist area that some Pagans are involved with is animal rights. Recent documents gained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the is keeping files on activists who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms and recommended prosecuting them as terrorists.  Included in this list are persons whose crime was to illegally enter factory farms and videotape the conditions of the animals.  The terrorism they engage in is to cause economic harm to the animal owners.  Videotaping horrific conditions in a chicken factory can now redefine you as a terrorist.

But is NDAA 2012 really that bad?
The ACLU believes so.  In a Press Release sent out immediately after President Obama signed the Bill they said, “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,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “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.”

Legal language is complicated and exists in a world where the meaning of the word “is” is debated, so what is in the Bill and what does it mean?  Glenn Greenwold notes that the language in the Bill is intentionally vague and confusing and has caused conflicting views of just who and what the detention provisions of the Bill cover.  In his article, Three myths about the detention bill, he debunks the three most common misconceptions about the Bill:

  • Myth # 1: This bill does not codify indefinite detention
  • Myth #2: The bill does not expand the scope of the War on Terror as defined by the 2001 AUMF
  • Myth #3: U.S. citizens are exempted from this new bill

Greenwold does an excellent job breaking down the detainee sections of the Bill and putting them into plain English.  I highly recommend you read the full article.

While some political analysts question if the detainee sections apply to US citizens, especially concerning placing citizens into military custody (black bagging) the President is clear that he now has this power.  In a signing statement, President Obama acknowledged that he can use the military to indefinitely detain US citizens on US soil, but will not exercise that power.

“My administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” wrote Obama.

Mural by dustin spagnola - Asheville, NC

This promise to not use a power granted rings hollow.  Rarely is a power granted to a government that they will not use, it just takes the proper emergency or situation or enemy for it to become a necessary evil to implement the provisions in the Bill.  Second, Obama has broken many, many promises to the American people.   Guantanamo Bay is not closed.  Torture and rendition in secret overseas military bases overseas have continued.   The Patriot Act has been extended twice under Obama and he has not exercised veto power either time.  The last time it was extended, in May of 2011, it was extended for four more additional years despite bitter opposition by Conservative Republicans and Liberal Democrats.  In an irony that can only happen in politics, President Obama harshly criticized Bush for signing statements and promised that he would never use them.   Even if we believe President Obama that he will never use this power, what about the next President?  Or the one after that?  As for Amnesty International, they believe that “Trust me” is not enough of a safeguard.

Yet there are three strong reasons why I don’t believe we can take President Obama at his word.

  • 1.  This clip from Senator Levin (D) Michigan, Chairmen of the Armed Services Committee, the committee which wrote the detainee section of the Bill, clearly states it was the President who asked the committee to remove language from the Bill which would have protected US citizens from the detainee provisions of the Bill.  “The language which precluded the application of Section 1031 to American citizens was in the bill that we originally approved…and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that U.S. citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section,”said Levin. If the Obama administration is so opposed to the idea of detaining Americans without trial, why did they push for such powers to be included in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act?
  • 2. President Obama threatened to veto the Bill if a portion of the language wasn’t changed. Congress immediately changed the language. This demonstrates Congress would change the Bill rather than face a the shame and problems a Presidential veto would bring them.  The section changed was to give sole power to the President to grant detainee waivers instead of having the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General making the decision.
  • 3. This Bill was not veto-proof.  In order to over-ride a veto, both the House and the Senate would have to re=pass the Bill with a 2/3rds YES vote.  There are 435 house members. 283 vote YES for NDAA. That is not 2/3rds (290) of the House needed to override a veto.  After the veto, the President could apply more pressure and garner public support against the Bill.  The numbers voting YES would have likely further dropped.

The above information is not to lay blame solely with the President, but show his complicity, along with the majority of Democrats and Republicans, in making this Bill the law of the land.  To caution against complacency or placing false faith in politicians that have demonstrated a total lack of regard for Habeas Corpus, due process of law, or any of our rights as citizens under the Constitution.  You can no longer vote based strictly on Party with the assurance that your civil rights will be protected.

What can we do?

As for our local politicians, Senator Franken voted against NDAA and wrote an editorial explaining why he voted against NDAA.  Senator Klobuchar, on the hand, voted in support of eliminating due process.  Here is a link to a clip of a phone call made to Klobuchar asking her to explain why she voted for NDAA.  Because of her vote, Occupy MN is staging a protest to take place at Senator Klobuchar’s office.

Occupy Amy Klobuchar’s Office
WhenTue, January 17, 8am – 5pm
Where1200 Washington Avenue South, Room 250, Minneapolis, MN (map)
DescriptionOccupy Saint Paul will stage a sit-in to protest the military detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act by occupying the offices of United States Senator Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar voted YES to NDAA with indefinite detention language in place, after the Udell amendment failed.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced The Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011, which  amends the Non-Detention Act of 1971 by providing that a Congressional authorization for the use of military force does not authorize the indefinite detention—without charge or trial—of U.S. citizens who are apprehended domestically.  This only protects American citizens, but is a step in the right direction.  A better move would be to repeal the detention language, the Patriot Act, and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act.  If you would like to sign the petition asking Congress to pass The Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011, you may do so here.

Protests are breaking out across the country, many organized by the various Occupy groups.  The results, at Occupy Wall Street in New York, are less than optimal. From The Atlantic Wire:

Occupy Wall Street is in the middle of one of its day-long marches in New York Tuesday, protesting the National Defense Authorization Act, but for those following along on the Global Revolution livestream, the real action is happening in the broadcast studio itself. That’s because police have apparently just raided the Brooklyn studio of and taken some of the project’s key volunteers into custody.

The house that Occupy Wall Street was renting and maintaining its live streaming from was told they had to vacate due to the building being  “imminently perilous to life.”

We are living in interesting times and appear to be at a crossroads when it comes to our freedoms.  If we are asleep at the switch, we stand to lose them.  SOPA, a Bill which even proponents like the MPAA admit will censor our internet access similar to repressive countries such as North Korea and Iran, is almost guaranteed to pass  Or has the censorship begun already?  While foreign press has the signing of the NDAA as it’s top international story, our press has remained silent.  Jon Stewart, Rachael Maddow, The Young Turks (if you only watch one video, that’s the one to watch), and David Seaman are some of the few voices talking about NDAA.

President Obama, in his signing statement said implementing indefinite detention,” … would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”  Yet he signed it.  I wonder if that’s because he, like many of our elected officials, seem to have forgotten “Habeas corpus, due process of law, and trial by jury aren’t “values” or “traditions” they are rights.”

8 thoughts on “Indefinite detention of US citizens? Yes We Can!

  1. Tasha-Rose says:

    I am thinking there will be activism against this and the possibility of it being challenged to it’s constitutionality. Seems like it violates some pretty basic, core tenets of our society and the foundation for our legal system.

  2. Wayne McLaughlin says:

    The problem with the Constitutionality argument is that the Supreme Court has already upheld the same empowerment of the government that was initiated by the Patriot Act. This bill simply confirms said empowerment from what would have been the opposition. Things like this should make those who believe the media-driven BS about an actual substantive difference between the Democrats and Republicans feel like the dupes that they are.

  3. Gordon says:

    It worries me too, Cara. It’s part of the dysfunction of Congress that such a measure is shoved into a larger bill when it should be debated and voted on separately.

    • Barbie says:

      It should have never been debated on and voted separately. You’re talking about the government making it legal to kill people. At their discretion. No trial. No explanation. Vague interpretation of what a threat really is…. Why, in this country should THAT be debated?

  4. Wolfie says:

    While there is a disclaimer regarding the President being the sole source of this piece of legislation the article repeatedly lays it on his doorstep and constantly uses his name. Sounds like a standard right wing “labeling” scheme or at the very least it plays into it. I also hear no one asking the question of why would the President, or for that matter, members of congress in the majority, propose and pass this legislation ? Any chance that there is an issue of American Citizens becoming outright terrorists.. Does Minnesota and Somalia ring any bells.. or how about that other fellow whose name eludes me (and also is eluding our ability to capture) but is considered a mastermind of much terrorist planning / recruiting / executing of bombings, etc. He is an American Citizen… I don’t like the implications of parts of this legislation either… but where do you draw the line ? What is the balance that must be achieved ? Our President has had to make many compromises I have a great deal of dislike about.. But just ranting / condemning or drawing lines to the Occupy Movement and chicken farms is sheer nonsense with little or no factual basis.. its speculative at best and ranks right up there with Homeland Security Detention Camps, etc.

    • caraschulz says:

      Are you talking about Anwar al-Awlaqi? He was assassinated by US drone attacks on September 30, 2011. Although al-Awlaqi was suspected of being a recruiter and motivator for groups with ties to al-Qaeda (and certainly wrote some of the more hateful articles you would ever care to read), it was never proven in a court of law that he was part of al-Qaeda and took part in illegal activities.

      His 16 year old son, also a US citizen born in Denver, was killed by a drone October 14, 2011.

      I’m not going to shed any tears for Anwar al-Awlaqi, but I do strongly oppose the US government assassinating a US citizen because they suspect them of being a terrorist. When our elected officials enact laws that are contrary to our ethics, it’s up to us to call them on it. It doesn’t matter if they have a D or an R after they name, they shouldn’t get a pass. I spoke out strongly against the Patriot Act, against the TSA and their Security Theater, against the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, SOPA, and now against NDAA2012.

      As says Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine says in his recent article “Iowa: The meaningless sideshow begins”
      There are obvious, even significant differences between Obama and someone like Mitt Romney, particularly on social issues, but no matter how Obama markets himself this time around, a choice between these two will not in any way represent a choice between “change” and the status quo. This is a choice between two different versions of the status quo, and everyone knows it.

      The status quo, in the instance of NDAA2012, believes that the Bill of Rights is more of a suggestion than, you know, our rights.

  5. Christopher Blackwell says:

    The problem with the courts is the make up for the present day Supreme Court. Remember the Supreme court can simply refuse to hear a case, as they did with religious freedom cases until the 1940s.

    Then with a supreme Court saying that Corporations were people with an unlimited right to buy government officials do you think they would stand in the way of having people opposed to this indefinite detainment jailed .Sorry but I have no faith in a Supreme Court that supports big business over citizens and government over citizens.

    Remember any form of demonstrations, and especially if it causes economic loss to business is considered to be a terrorist activity under both the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act.So this is just another nail in the coffin of our freedom. Remember we have alway accepted free speech zones behind barb wire and blocks away from the officials the people wished to protest against.Note that politicians only give speeches in from of cheering supporters and anyone who dares to disagree will be removed by security. This has been happening regardless of whether the Republicans or the Democrats were in power.It has been done right out in the open and how many have not noticed and not protested against it. o the government now can take it a step forward and just jail you if they are uncomfortable with what you say r do, no evidence is now necessary and even President Obama said he sees people being held for ten years or more.

    None of this has been secretly done. It has been done right in front of you step by step and you haven’t reacted yet.

    Ben Franklin said “People willing to give up freedom for security deserve nether.” You have stayed quiet, now you get your reward. Just follow orders now.

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