Obama turns rightface in a signifacant move to fight terror disappointing many.
In one of his final acts of 2011, on Dec. 31, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill allowing the U.S. military to indefinitely detain any American citizen it suspects of participating in or substantially supporting terrorist activities, without any due process, jury trial, or presumption of innocence.
The bill passed the U.S. Senate in December by an 86-13 margin. In all, six Republicans, six Democrats and one independent opposed the measure. Both Wisconsin senators, Republican Ron Johnson and Democrat Herb Kohl, supported it.The language, embedded in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, has prompted withering criticism of Obama from both the right and the left.
On the left, the ACLU led the charge, saying the act would stain Obama's historical reputation.
"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."
On the right, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) said the U.S. government should not be granted the right to detain citizens without a jury trial.Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen detained on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress now assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way again. The ACLU believes that any military detention of American citizens or others within the United States is unconstitutional and illegal, including under the NDAA. In addition, the breadth of the NDAA’s detention authority violates international law because it is not limited to people captured in the context of an actual armed conflict as required by the laws of war.
“We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court,” said Romero. “Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today. Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority. But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.”
The bill also contains provisions making it difficult to transfer suspects out of military detention, which prompted FBI Director Robert Mueller to testify that it could jeopardize criminal investigations. It also restricts the transfers of cleared detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries for resettlement or repatriation, making it more difficult to close Guantanamo, as President Obama pledged to do in one of his first acts in office.
NOTES & COMMENTS:
Ironically, in addition to breaking his promise not to sign the law, Obama broke his promise on signing statements and attached a statement that he really does not want to detain citizens indefinitely.
Obama insisted that he signed the bill simply to keep funding for the troops. It was a continuation of the dishonest treatment of the issue by the White House since the law first came to light. As discussed earlier, the White House told citizens that the President would not sign the NDAA because of the provision. That spin ended after sponsor Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) went to the floor and disclosed that it was the White House and insisted that there be no exception for citizens in the indefinite detention provision.
The latest claim is even more insulting. You do not “support our troops” by denying the principles for which they are fighting. They are not fighting to consolidate authoritarian powers in the President. The “American way of life” is defined by our Constitution and specifically the Bill of Rights. Moreover, the insistence that you do not intend to use authoritarian powers does not alter the fact that you just signed an authoritarian measure. It is not the use but the right to use such powers that defines authoritarian systems.
The almost complete failure of the mainstream media to cover this issue is shocking. Many reporters have bought into the spin of the Obama Administration as they did the spin over torture by the Bush Administration. Even today reporters refuse to call waterboarding torture despite the long line of cases and experts defining waterboarding as torture for decades. On the NDAA, reporters continue to mouth the claim that this law only codifies what is already the law. That is not true. The Administration has fought any challenges to indefinite detention to prevent a true court review. Moreover, most experts agree that such indefinite detention of citizens violates the Constitution.
There are also those who continue the long-standing effort to excuse Obama’s horrific record on civil liberties by either blaming others or the times. One successful myth is that there is an exception for citizens. The White House is saying that changes to the law made it unnecessary to veto the legislation. That spin is facially ridiculous. The changes were the inclusion of some meaningless rhetoric after key amendments protecting citizens were defeated. The provision merely states that nothing in the provisions could be construed to alter Americans’ legal rights. Since the Senate clearly views citizens are not just subject to indefinite detention but even execution without a trial, the change offers nothing but rhetoric to hide the harsh reality. The Administration and Democratic members are in full spin — using language designed to obscure the authority given to the military. The exemption for American citizens from the mandatory detention requirement (section 1032) is the screening language for the next section, 1031, which offers no exemption for American citizens from the authorization to use the military to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial.
Obama could have refused to sign the bill and the Congress would have rushed to fund the troops. Instead, as confirmed by Sen. Levin, the White House conducted a misinformation campaign to secure this power while portraying Obama as some type of reluctant absolute ruler, or as Obama maintains a reluctant president with dictatorial powers.
Most Democratic members joined their Republican colleagues in voting for this unAmerican measure. Some Montana citizens are moving to force the removal of these members who they insist betrayed their oaths of office and their constituents. Most citizens however are continuing to treat the matter as a distraction from the holiday cheer.
For civil libertarians, the NDAA is our Mayan moment. 2012 is when the nation embraced authoritarian powers with little more than a pause between rounds of drinks.
So here is a resolution better than losing weight this year . . . make 2012 the year you regained your rights.