The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which will officially approve the Pentagon’s planned expenditures for the upcoming year, in most ways is a normal piece of government legislation. However, under the sponsorship of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, a special provision has been added to this year’s defense authorization bill that would give the military the power to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone suspected of being a terrorist anywhere in the world—even if that person was an American citizen living on American soil at the time of the arrest. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, tried to add an amendment to the NDDA that would have repealed this provision, but on Tuesday, November 29, the Senate voted down this amendment by an overwhelming margin, 60 to 38. It is now a foregone conclusion that the 2012 NDDA will be passed as is, although the Obama Administration has threatened to veto the bill because of its objections to this provision.
Opposition to the bill has united civil libertarians of the left and right, as the ACLU and Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, are among those who have voiced strong objections to this blatant attempt to use the “War on Terrorism” as an excuse to essentially trash the Constitution. Supposedly at the direction of the President (but in practice, the military itself is likely to be granted broad leeway), military police could be instructed to take into custody anyone that is believed to be a terrorist. How exactly one would define a terrorist is not entirely clear of course, which means that military and government authorities would be free to define and interpret the word any way they choose. After arrest, a terrorism suspect would have exactly one hearing before legal authorities, at which point the military organization responsible for the arrest would be able to present their evidence of wrongdoing or suspicious activity. If the court were persuaded by the military’s case, the terrorist suspect would then be taken off to prison and held there until the military, the President, or some other authorized political authority said they were free to go. If no one were to ever say anything, then the terrorism suspect (remember, this person will not have been proven guilty of anything in a court of law) would then spend the rest of his or her life behind bars.
Bill of Rights? Who Needs It?
This extraordinary new legal provision, which has the full support of a predictable coalition of war-loving Republican senators like John McCain and establishment Democrats who have never seen a principle they were willing to stand up for, represents such a departure from American legal and political tradition that it actually manages to violate half of the entire Bill of Rights, including:
- The 1st Amendment: If you make politically incorrect public statements about the war on terrorism, American policy in the Middle East, or the U.S. government in general, could this be a sign that you are actually a terrorist yourself? Maybe yes, maybe no – it will be up to military authorities to decide.
- The 4th Amendment: If the government does not really have to prove anything against you in a court of law, or rely on a warrant to take you into custody for the crimes they believe you may have committed, it is hard to think of a seizure that is more unreasonable than this one.
- The 5th Amendment: This is the amendment that promises due process of the law for everyone suspected of or charged with a crime. The new detention provision, on the other hands, says “phooey” to the concept of due process.
- The 6th Amendment: This amendment promises a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury for all criminal suspects. The new detention provision promises the exact opposite.
- The 8th Amendment: What could be more cruel and unusual than being locked away because of what you supposedly are – not because of anything you have necessarily done – and not being given any chance to defend yourself or rebut the charges against you?
As wise heads have pointed out, in all the years since 9/11 there have been no terrorist attacks of any kind carried out on American soil. While we occasionally hear of arrests of self-styled terrorists who supposedly have been busy hatching nefarious plots, the people taken into custody always seem to be crazy loner types who probably couldn’t successfully bake a frozen pizza in their ovens at home, let alone cook up a viable terrorist plot. So what is the point of passing a new law like this now? If we were truly a society under siege, that would be one thing; but to make a change in policy that contradicts fundamental American principles while turning the Bill of Rights into Swiss cheese under current conditions seems absurd to the extreme.
The Terrorist Next Door
But perhaps it is not even about “terrorism” as the term is usually understood. While Al Qaeda and radical Islam are the beta noire of the moment, the “terrorist” label could in the future be applied to just about anyone who opposes government policy in a particular area and is willing to use civil disobedience or strong outspoken speech to try and change things. In fact, the terrorist label has already been used at various times against environmental and animal rights activists from one side of the spectrum and against anti-abortion activists from the other. With the rise of the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement, we are clearly living in an historical moment when those who are ready to resist what they see as the injustices of the times are willing to act boldly and forcefully to try and change things. Will the millions of Americans who support efforts like these soon be called terrorists as well, simply because bold citizen action is starting to make corporate and government power brokers who profit from the status quo feel a little uncomfortable?
When President Eisenhower warned us at the end of his term about the rise of the “military-industrial complex,” one of the things he was trying to tell us was that the military had lost its independence—that it had become little more than an extension of the great corporate powers that now controlled the engine of government. The truth is, if you are someone who opposes the current policies of our government, and you are not afraid to say so out loud – if you are acting the way a responsible citizen is supposed to act, in other words – then you too could be labeled a terrorist.” Of course they can do that even without a new law, as we have already seen. But if this new provision really does go into effect, they will be able to do a lot more to people they don’t like than just put a label on them.
Keeping the Power with the People
The constitutional protections that we all value so much were put in place by the Founding Fathers for a reason. It is appalling to think that some of the fundamental principles that have guided our civilization from the beginning may be in danger because the mediocre minds that are now in control of our the government think they know better. There may indeed be situations that will arise in the future that are so terrible and threatening that it will be necessary to temporarily sacrifice some of our basic liberties in order to get through the crisis. But even then, such action should only be taken following a referendum, which would protect us from demagogues and fools by guaranteeing the full input and approval of the American people.
©2011 Off the Grid News