It is quite impressive how the allegedly gridlocked, fiercely partisan, do-nothing Congress that supposedly seeks to block president Obama’s every move, can get together quietly with him to agree on sweeping powers that endanger our constitutional protections against arbitrary and indefinite arrest and detention by the government.
At the end of last week, the Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 by comfortable majorities (350 -65 in the House and 84-15 in the Senate). As the ACLU says:
In December 2011, President Obama signed the 2012 NDAA, codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history. The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president — and all future presidents — to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield. The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.
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.
Harold W. Pease clarifies the implications of this dangerous legislation that went unnoticed during the holiday season.
Most maintained the image that the annual act merely funded the military for another year, as has been the case previously. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Left in place was the extremely controversial 2012 provision authorizing the military, under presidential authority, to arrest, kidnap and detain without trial, and hold indefinitely, American citizens thought to “represent an enduring security threat to the United States.” Simply stated, it defied habeas corpus (your constitutional right not to disappear at the hand of government), the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (preventing the military from having a law enforcement function in the United States) and essentially gutted large portions of the Bill of Rights, especially amendments 4, 5 and 6 with secondary damage to 1, 2 and possibly 8. It is the single most dangerous law passed by Congress in U.S. history.
Pease quotes Senator Ted Cruz who said in voting against the bill:
“Today I voted against the National Defense Authorization Act. I am deeply concerned that Congress still has not prohibited President Obama’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process. The Constitution does not allow President Obama, or any president, to apprehend an American citizen, arrested on U.S. soil, and detain these citizens indefinitely without a trial.”
Of course, apologists for president Obama and the authoritarian state will now come out of the woodwork, saying that our overlords are benign and we must give them every power so that they can protect us from the monsters lurking under our beds and that they will arrest only bad people and besides Obama is a good man with such a nice family and so could not possibly do anything bad. The fact that Senator Cruz voted against the bill will be sufficient for those with this kind of tribal mindset to decide that the Act must be a good thing.
Cartoonist Ted Rall weighs in with other aspects of the Act.