The National Defense Authorization Act: Why We Should Care

04Dec11

I haven’t written any notes in a while. Really, I’ve just been too busy working on things to find something to say that really needed to be said to so many people. But I’ve learned recently of a rather disturbing piece of legislation that needs to be addressed, I think.Have you heard of the National Defense Authorization Act? It’s the bill that’s set the budget for the Department of War (now, Dept of Defense) for about 50 years now. Every year it’s renewed with different proposals for the budget and perhaps with different provisions in other areas. One provision this year is just downright disturbing.

This provision gives the President the authority to detain US citizens in military prison indefinitely and without trial. This is blatantly unconstitutional and not right. The senate had a chance to get rid of this specific provision, but they failed to do so. Both Texas senators and both Oklahoma senators (looking at you, Coburn!) voted to keep this horrendous provision within the Act. The previous link provides a list also of every senator who voted for or against removing that particular provision.

Only seven out of one hundred chose to oppose the bill’s final form, after the provision was kept. Here is a link to the entire bill. Or, if you just want to read the provision in question, it’s Section 1034, paragraphs 3 and 4.

SEC. 1034. AFFIRMATION OF ARMED CONFLICT WITH AL-QAEDA, THE TALIBAN, AND ASSOCIATED FORCES.

Congress affirms that–

(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;

(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note);

(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who–

(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or

(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and

(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that this reflects a “compromise”. Yet according to govtrack.us, this wording has remained unchanged. It wasn’t in the original introduction into the House on Apr 14th, but the Final (House) form on May 17th had it exactly like this. This “agreement” is apparently opposed by the Obama administration, and thankfully I believe he is serious on his veto threat. [Update: the compromise refers to the amending of other provisions in the bill, though this part was apparently not compromised. Our First, Fourth, and Fifth amendment rights, however…]

The scary thing is that this bill does not specifically state that U.S. citizens are exempt for this unconstitutional treatment. There was another time in history — at least one — when the US chose not to defend the freedom of speech of political dissidents. The Sedition Act of 1918 made it criminal to hinder recruiting efforts or criticize the government/military during war time. Try reading a NY Times article from Christmas Eve, 1921: “HARDING FREES DEBS AND 23 OTHERS HELD FOR WAR VIOLATIONS. Page two mentions Thomas Carey, a pacifist, put in prison for refusing to submit to the draft. Several Socialists (members of the I.W.W., the Industrial Workers of the World) are likewise there. Although some are listed as advocating armed resistance, others were simply vocal critics exercising their First Amendment rights. According to the article, these 24 prisoners may have been released, but they never had US citizenship reinstated. Another from 1917 details a man being arrested for suggesting to two young men not to register for the draft. Another documents a restriction on printing any political commentary in other languages — German, in particular — without providing an English translation. Untranslated political commentary is forbidden to even be carried or mailed. Another documents the arrest of then-somewhat-famous writer Cleveland Moffett for making a street corner speech that criticized Wilson. Another, well… I’ll just quote the mayor of New York:

This country is at war with Germany. Public denunciation of the action of the United States Government in co-operating with other Governments in fighting a common enemy is calculated to give aid and comfort to that enemy.

This mindset was here less than 100 years ago, folks. Criticizing the government publicly was at one point illegal, subject to fines and imprisonment. I shudder to think that this mindset may return. Honestly, I fear that it already has. Remember those 9/11 patriotic songs? Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (Toby Keith). Love it or Leave (Lynyrd Skynyrd). My tired mind cannot think of others at the moment.

What can we do? Write the White House? Call our congressmen? These things may help. I support prayer as well. America is definitely in disarray beyond just the economy. May God watch over those who trust in Him. May He be present, and grant us a spirit of solidarity to replace fear. I pray that He would have mercy. Lord, come quickly!

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