NDAA saga is the scariest type of horror story
By Bill Cleary
I'd hate for The Independent to turn into the sort of alarmist, paranoid rag people only care about to use as the butt of a joke, but there is another threat to our essential liberty as Americans lurking in Congress. It's hard to gauge such a thing as the relative extent of the abuse of power or to compare physical threats to those that target the people's thoughts and expression, but I think it's fair to say that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 is at least as great a threat to us as the Stop Online Piracy Act.
The bill's name is rather innocuous. It sounds like the kind of bill that gets passed every year as a matter of course to keep some vital part of the country running -- and, normally, it is. This year's bill is a real corker, though -- thanks to some slippery wording, it allows for American citizens on American soil to be detained indefinitely without being charged or tried for any crime. Essentially, the bill would apply the same rules the military holds suspected terrorists under -- rules that sparked no small amount of controversy and protest -- to American citizens. Just as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan finally look like they're winding down, the U.S. Senate decided we need a worldwide battlefield to compensate.
My use of the past tense in that last sentence is not an accident. The bill has already passed the Senate -- by a vote of 93-7. Clearly, this isn't a partisan issue. So, what happened?
Were the senators not paying attention? Did they not read the bill? Or was the language used confusing?
About the only way to see the senators as competent and working in the best interests of the American people is to assume they simply weren't listening when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the sponsors of the bill, read aloud from 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.''
It's awfully hard to believe any legislator who voted for a bill containing that line sees the people as anything better than potential enemies.
Granted, there was some confusion caused by a provision providing Americans exemption from mandatory detention, but it's proclaimed, as clearly as day, that the bill establishes a paranoid new world-battlefield on which everyone is a potential enemy of the state.
Perhaps some of the senators realized what they had just voted in favor of and rushed to correct their error. Well, they did -- Sen. Robert Udall, D-Colo., presented the Udall Amendment to the bill. All it would have done is delete the provisions for indefinite detention of citizens and set up an orderly review of detention power.
The Udall Amendment failed by a vote of 38-60.
One final attempt was made to amend the bill. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sponsored an amendment that stated simply that nothing in the bill would affect current law regarding the detention of American citizens. That one passed, 99-1.
But the picture isn't anywhere near as rosy as that vote count suggests. There remains a drastic difference of opinion on whether current -- i.e. pre-NDAA -- law allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. Most of those who voted for the bill and against the Udall Amendment believe that current law does allow for the indefinite detention of citizens, despite the existence of laws on the books such as the 1971 Non-Detention Act. To most of the senators, the right to indefinitely detain citizens is nothing new, and this bill was just stating that.
Now, the bill is headed to the House. If it passes, we'll enter a shaky, scary world until the ambiguity left unresolved by the amendment (and the opinions of the senators and, likely, the Supreme Court justices) ... and then things might get worse.
The idea that the Senate -- our government -- would even try something like this ought to have us all pretty terrified.