The end of the year is a time when many people do things they’ll regret. Spend too much on Christmas shopping, party too much on New Year’s Eve, sign away Constitutional rights of their constituents… or maybe that last one only applies to Congress and the President.
Congress has a tendency to hide unpopular sections in bills pushed through at the end of the year, especially bills that most Americans don’t question. Defense spending is the perfect type of bill for sneaking in unpopular laws- nobody wants to tell the folks back home that supporting the troops doesn’t mean they want to feed or arm them. 2011 was no different, except this time, the Internet got involved and now people know what was snuck into law on December 31st.
The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows for the indefinite detention of any individual suspected of being connected to a known or suspected terrorist organization. The only time limit imposed is that detention can only last “until the end of the hostilities”; that is, until terrorism has been eradicated. If the individual is not a United States citizen, detention is mandatory. If the individual is a United States citizen, the detention is at the discretion of the state. Imagine. You donate to a community fundraiser for a local church, sending them money every year, only to find out that these fundraisers are sending all of the profits to an American in a remote area of Afghanistan, training al-Qaeda members. Of course you stop sending money to this fundraiser, but it’s too late. Once a check with your name on it is tied to this organization, even though you didn’t know its true purpose, you could be arrested. Detained on a military installation without being charged, without a trial, and legal representation at the discretion of whoever controls your incarceration.
The President insists that his administration will not use the powers granted by this bill, that his administration will not indefinitely detain Americans without trial. While everyone would hope that is the case, it is hard to ignore the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. An American who was suspected of being a leader in al-Qaeda was killed by CIA-operated drones, in cooperation with the Yemeni government. This mission was carried out without trial, judge or jury. Without proof that al-Awlaki was anything more than a voice of dissidence.
Congress and the President are certainly focused on the benefits of the remainder of the bill- providing funding to American soldiers, widows, children left without a parent. It may be that those who voted for the bill thought that they were protecting the freedom of “good” Americans by allowing the indefinite detention of suspected “bad” Americans. The problem is, the Constitution allows rights to all Americans. Detention without charges, without trial, without a definite term flies in the face of everything the Bill of Rights stands for.
NDAA, more than anything, shows that Americans are afraid. And the more we show that we are afraid, the greater the victory of the terrorists. We may detain their foot soldiers, they have already captured our minds.