With Help of Philly and Pennsylvania, Obama Signs National Defense Authorization Act
President Barack Obama and all viable Republican presidential candidates have something in common, and it’s pretty important: They’re generally supportive of the National Defense Authorization Act. The Act, as we’ve detailed, basically cements the idea that the president can detain anyone around the world, indefinitely. There’d been a ton of confusion over the bill (whether or not it includes American citizens in its detention language, whether or not there was any cause for concern at all) and Obama even cited reservations with the language of the bill (since it limited his Power To Fight The War On Terror) but, nevertheless, offered his signature while vacationing in Hawaii just a couple days ago.
This will hopefully be the last time we write about the bill, but it helps to reiterate the positions of the various peoples involved, and those not involved, and how they all tend to feel about the State of the Nation.
First off, only one presidential candidate has mentioned the NDAA by name: Ron Paul. And he’s against it (among other things). He said the bill will accelerate the country’s “slip into tyranny” and assures “our descent into totalitarianism” is well on its way.
Everyone else is very ‘meh.’ Probably because the language included in the bill has been around since at least 2001 and both President Obama and Bush have been able to detain you as long as they’ve felt like it. If you’re reading this, they just haven’t felt like it – yet!
Nevertheless, both Houses of Congress were in a position to lay that out to the American people. An NDAA is passed every year, and every year they literally lay out the plans and cash needed for world domination.
In 2011, however, they decided to take that a little further. Some lawmakers slipped in weird sentences, which, as reported the Associated Press in November, “would require military custody of a suspect determined to be a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates and involved in the planning or an attack on the United States. The administration argues that such a step would hamper efforts by the FBI or other law enforcement to elicit intelligence from terror suspects.” What’s the problem, you ask? Who’s to say who’s an al-Qaida affiliate?
So, an oddball combination of Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky teamed up to call this bill as they saw it, and offered amendments which would have changed the language as mentioned in Sections 1031 and 1032, the detention part of the bill. Both were voted down with the help of Pennsylvania’s Republican and Democratic Senators.
Meanwhile, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was frothing at the mouth, screaming at anyone who’d listen about how the United States is “part of the battlefield” in the War on Terror. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said the same thing. Then Graham was quoted in the New York Times, fantasizing about violently locking up and ridiculing an accused al-Qaida operative: “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined Al Qaeda.’”
When the American Internet began paying attention for real, Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California offered an amendment that’d specifically state “United States citizens” were exempt. (You Brits better watch your backs!) But, according to some legal experts, that wasn’t good enough. The language was moved and the Senate passed the bill. Many congressmen who voted for the original bill said if you’ve really got a problem with the law, then you’ve got a problem with a law that’s been in effect for the last decade, which you sort of just didn’t pay attention to until Occupy began running out of causes. Hell, back in the Spring, Rep. Bob Brady of Philadelphia (as well as Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, Rep. Allyson Schwartz and Rep. Pat Meehan) voted for the House version of the bill. And as previously mentioned, Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey had no problem whatsoever with it, either. Toomey went on the radio in Allentown and swore the bill included no such detention language as had spread throughout the Internet.
“There is a federal judicial review,” we quoted him as saying then, though not to us. “There’s a federal judge who is from a independent agency, not from the Executive Branch, who will opine on this. The person will have an attorney who will make an argument about whether or not he or she is in fact part of [al Qaeda or] one of these affiliated groups and have a periodic review opportunity on this.”
He called any suggestion that this bill would detain American citizens affiliated with Occupy or Tea Party groups “so far beyond what this legislation authorizes.”
Many civil rights groups, including the Council for American-Islamic Relations and the ACLU are trying to fight this. The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a pro-life organization, is too. They believe the bill was signed in order to lock up anti-abortion activists forever. And if that’s the case, we can’t imagine Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign will gain too much traction.
“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director, said in a statement on the group’s site. “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 will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.”
The ACLU press release continued: “The ACLU believes that any military detention of American citizens or others within the United States is unconstitutional and illegal, including under the NDAA. In addition, the breadth of the NDAA’s detention authority violates international law because it is not limited to people captured in the context of an actual armed conflict as required by the laws of war.”
But Obama’s signature isn’t a shock. He’s been deciding which laws he likes and doesn’t like for the past three years. And his decisions will have long-lasting consequences on what role the president does, or does not, have within many legal issues. Take the Defense of Marriage Act, which re-defines marriage as between a man and woman. Obama was called heroic when he announced in February that he found the Act unconstitutional and would ask his Just Department to stop defending it – and that’s fucked up. That’s not how things get changed. That’s how you set a precedent for a future Republican president to not defend pieces of Obama’s healthcare law, simply because that future Republican president doesn’t agree with it, for moral or political reasons. (This is how laws are actually, eventually changed.)
“President Obama’s refusal to defend a law that was overwhelmingly supported on both sides of the aisle and signed into law by a president of his own party is an affront to the will of the people,” Rick Santorum said on the campaign trail back in February. “And it begs the question, what language changed in the constitution since 2008 to reverse his position?”
Similarly, what changed that allows the president to detain people around the globe, indefinitely? Over the last decade, very little.