Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Obama's Indefinite Detention Bill

President Obama is poised to sign a bill (The National Defense Authorization Act-NDAA) which really honestly leaves me almost unable to write because I'm so angry. To put it mildly this is a very bad bill.
It codifies and regularizes indefinite detention of American citizens without trial within the United States of America. Yes that's right. Theoretically you could be minding your own business, running your blog, sending naughty IM's to your SO, chatting with various people across the blog-o-sphere and suddenly jackbooted black helmeted thugs could break down your door, tase you and seize your pc and other private effects and documents, blind you, gag you and prevent you from hearing anything and leisurely drag you off to the local military base (or as far as I know private detention center) where military or national security personnel could keep you imprisoned for as long as they like.

Lawyers? Warrants? Habeas corpus? Bump all that!!!! Of course I'm sure that they wouldn't like torture you or threaten to torture your loved ones because that would be illegal. And with the effective right to a speedy trial guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment , your rights to due process and protection against self-incrimination guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment and especially your protection against warrantless arrest and search guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment you can certainly tell the large humorless men with guns and nightsticks that as they have NO right to hold you you're walking out of there. Yes.

Of course before they start the waterboarding they will probably inform you that under the NDAA the country just collectively squatted and relieved itself over the Bill of Rights. The military, law enforcement and national security personnel don't need to worry about such quaint details anymore. And if THEY don't YOU certainly don't.

It is ironic that people from across the political spectrum from left-wing black nationalists to white racist paleocons to right leaning libertarians to classical liberals to radical socialists can all see the dangers in this bill, soon to become law. Unfortunately the larger American citizenry doesn't see the danger because otherwise something like this would never have been passed in the first place. Certainly the bipartisan Beltway elite don't care because as they well know this bill is not aimed at THEM. It's aimed at YOU.

Laws like this are usually passed because politicians claim to want to keep us safe. The problem is there is no such thing as complete safety. And by trying to reach it you inevitably attack freedom. We all know the Benjamin Franklin quote.
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
But it's worse than that. It's not just well-intentioned people making mistakes out of fear. President Obama may or may not possess the discipline and wisdom to use "responsibly" the powers granted in this new bill. But what about future Presidents? Based on his statements about arresting judges who rule in ways that he finds faulty do you think a President Gingrich could be trusted not to indefinitely detain a few "pointy headed liberals" he doesn't care for? Would a future President Chris Christie find it amusing to indefinitely detain national union leaders who wouldn't sign on to his Social Security plan?  Would a future feminist President order a dismantling of the men's rights movement? Heck, were I President, could I be trusted not to immediately detain Gloria Allred?

Seriously the point is that NO ONE should have to ask those kinds of questions. The entire point of this republic is that no one (wo)man should have that power. Power is supposed to be limited and split among the three branches of government-with the balance held by the people. When one branch of government (or one person) has that kind of power the temptation to use it against political enemies is overwhelming. The act of doing so becomes inevitable. It's not just cheap hyperbole to say that this is the twilight of the republic. On this issue it doesn't matter whether it's Bush or Obama. They are both horrible on civil liberties. Frankly, Obama is sliding into "worse" territory.

There is an excellent analysis of this bill's dangers by legal scholar Glenn Greenwald here. I implore you all to go read it in full as he has the legal knowledge which I lack to put all this into depressing perspective. Some highlights

  • The NDAA codifies into law indefinite detention
  • The NDAA does not exclude American citizens
  • The NDAA permanently expands the scope of the War on Terror.
What’s particularly ironic (and revealing) about all of this is that former White House counsel Greg Craig assured The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer back in February, 2009 that it’s “hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law.” Four months later, President Obama proposed exactly such a law — one that The New York Times described as “a departure from the way this country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of the government either face criminal charges or walk free” — and now he will sign such a scheme into law.
So far I've only seen one national political figure who has the stones to speak out against this new bill. You may not like him for other reasons but on this issue he's dead on target.

Ron Paul speaks out.

h/t Jonathan Turley

1) Do you think President Obama will sign this bill? If so why?
2) Are civil liberties a concern for you personally? Why or why not?
3) Do you think American citizens should be immune from military detention without trial?
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