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Obama Signs a “Terrible” Law

U.S. Citizens subject to indefinite detention in defense bill

While the nation was distracted noon to midnight by five bowl games, President Obama, as his last act in 2011, stealthily signed a defense appropriations bill on New Year's Eve containing a
Inmate treatment at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba. Americans may now be sent there.

provision that authorizes indefinite detention of any U.S. citizen thought to pose a possible security threat.

You will need to turn over a new leaf. Be careful what you say in public. Be guarded writing e-mail (the government has access to everyone's). Be circumspect before posting to Facebook. Because all the law requires in suspicion.

The President had for months warned Congress that he would veto the bill because of the detention measure, authored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), presumably agreeing with Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) that this bill is “one of the most anti-liberty pieces of legislation of our lifetime...destructive of our Constitution”.

But in yet another jaw-dropping about-face, Obama said he would sign it once modest changes were made to his satisfaction — changes that merely remove wording that the White House objected to for infringing on the powers and discretion of the executive branch. That, it turns out, was all that mattered to the president. As Glenn Greenwald's outstanding reporting (here and here) at Salon.com makes clear:

"his veto threat was not grounded in the premise that indefinite military detention is wrong; it was grounded in the premise that it should be the President who decides who goes into military detention and why, not Congress".

Thus, Obama, who "taught courses in constitutional law at the University of Chicago", according to FactCheck, and "has regularly referred to himself as 'a constitutional law professor'", shows himself not to give a damn about civil liberties, signing into law a constitutional atrocity.

Suppose you committed some indiscretion, said the wrong thing as a joke, possibly just a prank, a misunderstanding. Some ambiguity that could be misconstrued as a terrorism threat. Or you contributed innocently to an organization whose appeal for help seemed noble but which proved to be a front for a terrorist group. Under this new law, you could land in a military prison without due process, without hope of a trial, classified as an “enemy combatant”. In fact, if terrorism is the suspicion, the military does the apprehending; even the FBI is shut out. You would effectively disappear.

On the question of whether the law applies to U.S. citizens, there was this exchange when the bill was debated in the Senate:

Sen. Rand Paul: “My question would be, under the provisions would it be possible that an American citizen then could be declared an enemy combatant and sent to Guantanamo Bay and detained indefinitely.”

Sen. McCain: “I think that as long as that individual, no matter who they [sic] are, if they pose a threat to the security of the United States of America, should not be allowed to continue that threat.”

Another Senator, Lindsay Graham, backed the law and said, referring to a section of the bill, “1031, the statement of authority to detain, does apply to American citizens and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland.” As Common Dreams points out,

“that section empowers the President to detain such persons indefinitely without trial or to try them before a military court or to transfer them 'to the custody or control of the person's country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity.’”
Thus, with no sorting out of whether “such persons” are U.S. or foreign, anyone apprehended could be transferred to any of the three venues.

So let’s say no amount of aggressive questioning dislodges your insistence that it’s all just a mistake, because that’s all it was in fact, and you have no other truth to offer. Clearly, you need more persuading. You could be “rendered” to another country where torture is common practice, so as to give the U.S. authorities deniability that any such treatment occurred.

Wouldn’t happen? It already has. Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer, says U.S. officials grabbed him changing planes in New York in 2002, and rendered him to Syria for 10 months where he was tortured. Federal aviation records confirm the extradition flight and many others. And read this report by Chris Hedges at Truthdig about the treatment of Syed Fahad Hashmi, a U.S. citizen, held without trial in solitary confinement in a Manhattan jail.

Greenwald further tells us that the original draft of the bill ruled out American citizens as subject to the law, but the White House demanded that the provision be restored giving the executive branch — the president — the power to pluck an American off the street and place him or her in a military prison with no prospect for a trial. The law thus chips away at the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which has seen to it that the military is not used inside the U.S. for law enforcement. Ignoring that law flies in the face of what this administration itself has said, that earlier provisions of the bill were “inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”

And the military doesn't want the job. Nor do many others at the top of officialdom. This editorial in The New York Times calls the bill "terrible" and says:

Nearly every top American official with knowledge and experience spoke out against the provisions, including the attorney general, the defense secretary, the chief of the F.B.I., the secretary of state, and the leaders of intelligence agencies.

The President forgave himself with a signing statement, a disclaimer used

"...important traditions and values as a Nation" completes
the signing statement.

extensively by the second President Bush, whereby a president says his administration will not enforce particular passages of a law. Yes, but it now is the law, and the signing statement is no inhibitor of what future presidents may do.

We fought in two world wars, Korea and Vietnam with surpassing bravery only to see 9/11 throw us into a panic that quickly led to a collapse of those same human rights principles that we endlessly and sanctimoniously hold up to the world as example. But back home we passed and extended the Patriot Act, immediately resorted to torture, or rendition to other countries that practice torture, began wire tapping and invasion of homes without requirement for court orders, and set up an offshore prison at Guantanamo where we could abandon habeas corpus and the right to trial.

The panic persists still, or is the greater reality that fear mongering serves to facilitate the motives of a government which, ten years on, finds that it enjoys reasons to curtail civil liberties, chiseling into stone a parallel set of laws to control the citizenry.

1 Comment for “Obama Signs a “Terrible” Law”

  1. Jim

    One of Florida’s senators, who voted for the provision, gave his explanation. I recommend it.

    Marco’s Constituent Mail Box: Unemployment Insurance, Immigration and the Defense Authorization Vote


    The gist is that if you’re actively fighting on the wrong side of the so called War on Terror, you’ve declared yourself as fighting against the US. He says in better, and more completely than I.

    Especially if you DON’T agree, you should look at the reason, or excuse, for trying to pass it.

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