I missed this the other day, and it’s almost too late now. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been burdened with a provision… well, I’ll let the ACLU tell you:
… the Senate is gearing up for a vote on Monday or Tuesday that goes to the very heart of who we are as Americans. The Senate will be voting on a bill that will direct American military resources not at an enemy shooting at our military in a war zone, but at American citizens and other civilians far from any battlefield — even people in the United States itself.
Senators need to hear from you, on whether you think your front yard is part of a “battlefield” and if any president can send the military anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial.
The Senate is going to vote on whether Congress will give this president—and every future president — the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world. Even Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) raised his concerns about the NDAA detention provisions during last night’s Republican debate. The power is so broad that even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself.
The United States has an historical aversion to using the military for police powers against civilians, and that is for good and sufficient reason. Allowing a president to use the military against even American citizens within the United States may or may not be constitutional, but do you want to be one of the civilians on whom this law is tested?
By the way, this bill has bipartisan backing. Yes, the great Sen. Carl Levin was one of its drafters… and the drafting took place in secret.
Please tell your senators this bill is unacceptable. The bill is S. 1867 (numbers vary in different articles; just say “NDAA”); the provisions are sections 1031 and 1032. The linked ACLU post has a link to a letter you can fill in, or use the link from the quoted passage above.
(The WordPress post editor is still making life difficult. I am now entering all posts as HTML because it’s the least exasperating way.)
INDEPENDENT CONFIRMATION: not that the ACLU usually needs independent confirmation; it is typically solid in its facts. But here is Andrea Prasow in Salon, another typically reliable source, in an article on Guantanamo:
The National Defense Authorization Act, scheduled to be voted on by the Senate this week, contains several provisions that, if passed, would have the military police the streets, expand Guantanamo and indefinite detention elsewhere, and force certain terrorism suspects into military custody instead of charging them with crimes in civilian courts.
This, despite the fact that the civilian justice system has proven effective in the fight against terrorism, preventing future attacks and prosecuting, far more than the military, alleged terrorist cases. In the last 10 years over 400 people have been tried and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in U.S. federal courts. Many convicted in this system are serving their sentences in U.S. prisons. The criminal justice system, flawed though it may be, has stood the test of time.
Meanwhile, in the extra-legal military system, hundreds of detainees were abused in U.S. custody and some died. While a total of 779 people have been held at Guantanamo, only six have been prosecuted in a military commission and two are already free.
I am increasingly certain that this is the most weighty and terrifying threat to American constitutional democracy on which I have posted to date. Once due process is officially handed over to military troops in the street, it’s all over, folks.
UPDATE Tuesday morning: via ACLU, the president has issued a veto threat related to the offending provisions (and others). The president’s reasons are not my own: he simply doesn’t want his existing de facto powers tampered with.
UPDATE Tuesday morning: David Dayen of FDL explains Mark Udall’s proposed amendment effectively removing the offending provisions, and has good links to related material.
UPDATE Tuesday morning: the ACLU has updated its original post with the following paragraphs:
UPDATE: Don’t be confused by anyone claiming that the indefinite detention legislation does not apply to American citizens. It does. There is an exemption for American citizens from the mandatory detention requirement (section 1032 of the bill), but no exemption for American citizens from the authorization to use the military to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial (section 1013 of the bill). So, the result is that, under the bill, the military has the power to indefinitely imprison American citizens, but it does not have to use its power unless ordered to do so.
But you don’t have to believe us. Instead, read what one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham said about it on the Senate floor: “1031, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland.”
There you have it — indefinite military detention of American citizens without charge or trial. And the Senate is likely to vote on it Monday or Tuesday.
UPDATE Tuesday morning: You may appreciate S. Floyd Mori’s op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News, in which he links the provisions of this bill to the internment of Japanese American citizens during W. W. II. I thought we were through with that sort of thing forever after the great shame of that internment was understood. But noooo…
(If the WordPress post editor keeps moving BLOCKQUOTE tags around on me, I may find the programmer and subject him/her to indefinite detention without trial.)
UPDATE Tuesday evening: Udall’s amendment stripping the two provisions was strongly defeated (61-37). Will Obama issue the promised veto? Hold onto your seats, folks…