WASHINGTON — On December 31, 2011, while most Americans where preparing for dinner with friends or getting ready to celebrate the New Year, President Barack Obama signed the highly controversial National Defense Authorization Act into law despite an earlier White House threat to veto an earlier version.
Obama said he had “serious reservations” about the provisions, which will allow the indefinite detention of American citizens suspected of supporting “terrorism,” but signed it anyway, a move that has left Civil Rights organizations and advocates deeply concerned about what could be one of the most egregious violations of the U.S. Constitution in American history.
“We are extremely disappointed that President Obama signed this bill even though his administration is already claiming overly-broad detention authority in court...Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back those claims dimmed today,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement on New Year’s Eve. “Thankfully we have three branches of government, and the final word on the scope of detention authority belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority.”
Proponents of the provisions have said they are needed for combating terror threats.
The Obama administration attempted to mitigate the negativity surrounding the signing by releasing the following statement.
“I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens," Obama said in a statement released when he signed the bill. "Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation."
But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noted that just because Obama said he didn't plan to use it doesn't mean that subsequent administrations won't pledge to do the same, nor is there certainty that Obama won't change his mind as his administration did regarding the possible veto.
The ACLU is also deeply concerned over the scope of the legislation, which was included as part of a massive defense bill introduced in its original form by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) before being altered, but not enough to keep out the most controversial provision.
“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 wrote just after the bill was signed.
Other organizations have lamented the lack of media coverage of the act as well as the timing of its passage considering its highly controversial nature.
Civil Rights Commissioner says all, especially Arab Americans, should be concerned
Michigan Civil Rights Commissioner, attorney and founder of the Arab American Civil Rights League Nabih Ayad is among those who was also taken aback by the scope and powers granted by the bill.
Ayad has handled several high-profile cases relating to civil rights in the post-9/11 landscape.
“This really is a sad day in our American justice system when a president, a Democrat as well as an African American, signs into law a bill that allows indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, it's troublesome for me as an American and especially as an Arab American.
“It's basically letting fear trump common sense and the reason why I say this is because there are already numerous avenues that the Justice Department and law enforcement have at its whim to assure dangerous people can be prevented from being released from our jail systems.”
Ayad said that material support provisions for linking someone to terrorism still haven't been clearly defined by the court system, which further puts Arab Americans and American Muslims at risk.
In the past, the ‘substantial support’ test included buying rain gear, allowing a suspect to make a call on a cell phone and writing an opinion piece critical of the U.S. government according to Amnesty International.
“All Americans should be concerned about this..if you look at the small burden the government has to keep someone in jail they already have a bunch of tools at their disposal,” Ayad said, “from the (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts to the PATRIOT ACT allowing the government even more powers, what more do they want? Are they just going to start locking us up and saying, 'We feel you're a security threat?'”
“You can imagine why as Arab Americans, and all Americans, we should be concerned across this country.”
Americans, Michigan Rep. express dismay, vow to keep fighting
As a national radio talk show host broadcasting both online and over the airwaves to hundreds of thousands of people on the topics of health freedom and civil liberties, Robert Scott Bell, host of ‘The Robert Scott Bell’ show, the NDAA has been discussed in great detail by callers and guests.
“The sense of course is that it is patently un-American and unconstitutional and that it completely takes away Habeas Corpus rights,” Bell said. “Whether you want to go 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th, or 10th amendments it literally shatters what was left of freedom.”
Bell, his staff and many callers initially thought the veto threat would occur but were dismayed when the Obama administration changed its mind. Bell said that similarly controversial bills, such as one attacking nutritional supplements signed on Christmas Eve last year by Obama, often seem to be passed at times when people might not be paying close attention, and media hasn't picked up the slack.
“There's been very little mention of the NDAA (in the corporate media) and even in the alternative media or talk radio, people are astonished by how little this is being mentioned,” said show researcher Liam Scheff. “This is going to continue to fester like another open wound.”
Bell and callers also expressed concern over government statements relating to things such as “storing extra food” or “storing ammunition in waterproof containers” being touted as possible flags that may indicate somehow being involved in alleged “terrorist” activities.
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is among those who have spoken out against the broad unconstitutional powers granted by the NDAA. Amash said recently that the terms of what constitutes “substantial support” or “associated forces” of terrorists are not defined, saying that no one can be sure they are safe from detention policies.
“The backers succeeded in part because of the bill’s length and complexity. And I concede that this issue takes time to understand. Over the next few months, I hope to join others who value our country’s constitutional rights to block the NDAA’s dangerous detention provision. Once the American public sees for itself what’s included in the NDAA, I’m confident they will demand we do so.”
Amash recently sent a letter to House and Senate conferees urging them to amend the NDAA provisions that was signed by 11 bi-partisan Congresspeople including John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
In addition, bills in the House and Senate that would narrow the detention provisions have been introduced and many smaller scale operations including recall campaigns against senators who voted for the NDAA have been launched. Petitions are also being circulated by the ACLU and others.
While many Americans are still in the dark about what the NDAA entails, others who have been informed, including the ACLU vow to continue fighting: “...Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of any president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.”
“The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.”