Unless you’ve been on the front page of Reddit or some of the more obscure political watchdog sites in the past few days, the odds that you’ve heard or read about the “National Defense Authorization Act” are slim. The mainstream news media is apparently busy with other stuff, such as Donald Trump’s GOP debate. So we here at NYU Local would like to take a minute out of your day to let you know that as a nation, we’ve officially come to the end of the road.
The National Defense Authorization Act, or S. 1867, isn’t a slap in the face to our Constitution – it’s the killing blow.
The bill’s text, in its infinite vagaries and self-contradictions, subtly allows the government to arrest American citizens on American soil and hold them indefinitely and without trial or any form of due process – all on the pretense of being an amorphously-defined “enemy combatant”. Authored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich), the bill was passed in the Senate 93-7 on Dec. 1st without amendment.
Just in case the sheer magnitude of this bill hasn’t sunk in yet, understand that its provisions allow the government to define anybody as a terrorist, and have them locked up for the rest of their lives without any charge or trial from an independent judge. And “anybody” means anybody – a political dissident, a journalist, a protestor – even you.
Also keep in mind that our government’s track record for dealing with “undesirables” isn’t exactly spotless. In the past two months alone, thousands of protestors have been arrested all over the country for peacefully exercising their constitutional rights, while hundreds more have been grievously assaulted by police officers who attack with utter impunity.
While many are clamoring that “indefinite detention” for American citizens is never explicitly stated in the text of S. 1867 itself, the implicitness of a law is often far more draconian than its ink. From the ACLU (emphasis added):
“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 1031 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.”
The only hope for this bill to not become the firm law of the land is the sworn threat of executive veto from Obama. But don’t start cheering for the guy yet – the only reason he wants to stop the bill is because it undermines his exclusive ability to collect intelligence from citizens.
However, those same citizens have risen up in bi-partisan rage against the NDAA. Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Street protesters alike have denounced S. 1867, and hundreds of petitions have been drafted in the past few days that have collectively attained hundreds of thousands of signatures in opposition to the bill.
Our only chance of retaining our right to due process lies in the pressure we exert on our elected officials. But then again, perhaps it’s time to start thinking twice before putting your name on anything that might make you an enemy combatant in the eyes of our representatives.