In a reversal of his previous position, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act. The wide-ranging bill provides funding for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and imposes penalties against anyone doing business with Iran’s central bank, among many other items.
But the truly disturbing provisions of the law allow the president — Obama or any future one — to indefinitely detain American citizens without a trial if the commander-in-chief deems it necessary to ensure national safety.
Also, it allows the indefinite detention of any terrorism suspect — American or otherwise — without ever having the requirement to file any criminal charges.
Further, it lets the military handle all terrorism-related cases that occur on U.S. soil instead of agencies like the FBI and the civilian court system. (It’s worth noting here that this is a power that wasn’t sought by the military, but rather inflicted upon it by legislators.)
So, happy New Year and welcome to the police state. Forgot all those constitutional protections about the right to due process, a speedy trial and facing your accusers. Those are all terribly inconvenient, don’t ya know.
This is a monumental, historic change to the way our government functions, but what makes it even worse is Obama’s fumbling, half-hearted justifications about why he agreed to sign the measure.
In a piece of carefully choreographed political theater, Obama initially vowed to veto the bill if it contained the indefinite detention provision. Obama backed down once some legally meaningless wording was added that didn’t mandate military detention for U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism but rather left it as an option for the president’s discretion.
Then Obama attached a signing statement to the bill indicating he would never use that provision against a U.S. citizen.
“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” Obama said in the signing statement attached to the measure. “In particular, I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”
Obama’s statement added, “Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.
Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”
Well, not quite.
Thanks to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Armed Services Committee chairman, we know the truth. American citizens were excluded from indefinite detention in the original version of the bill, Levin said, but the Obama administration asked that the wording including them be added.
“It was the administration that asked us to remove the very language which we had in the bill which passed the committee … we removed it at the request of the administration,” Levin said. “It was the administration which asked us to remove the very language the absence of which is now objected to.”
Even if Obama is being truthful that he doesn’t intend to use the power, he still has cleared the way for the authority to be used by a President Romney or a President Santorum or anyone else for the matter, ad infinitum.
Here’s a gentle reminder, Mr. Obama: You took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to seek methods for circumventing it.
Numerous civil libertarian and human rights groups oppose the new law including Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“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,” said Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, in a prepared statement. “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.”
This follows a now-typical Obama pattern: Say one thing publicly, and do another in practice.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., rightfully takes Obama to task for his decision.
“You do not ‘support our troops’ by denying the principles for which they are fighting,” Turley wrote on his website. “They are not fighting to consolidate authoritarian powers in the President. The ‘American way of life’ is defined by our Constitution and specifically the Bill of Rights. Moreover, the insistence that you do not intend to use authoritarian powers does not alter the fact that you just signed an authoritarian measure. It is not the use but the right to use such powers that defines authoritarian systems.”
If this was a one-time failing on Obama’s part, it would be bad enough. Sadly, it’s just the latest in a long series of decisions that infringe on civil liberties and renege on campaign promises.
Bruce Bartlett, an advisor to President Reagan, makes a compelling case that when Barack Obama is judged solely based upon his policies, our current president should be considered a moderate conservative. In fact, Bartlett said, the president that has the most in common with Obama is Richard Nixon.
Writing in The Fiscal Times, Bartlett listed several examples of what he dubbed “Obama’s effective conservatism.”
They include that Obama’s stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary; Obama continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change; Obama put forward a health-care plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals; Obama caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever; and he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.
After the past three years, progressives who once supported Obama are used to disappointment. Still, the indefinite detention provision is a bridge too far, and one that easily could’ve been avoided.
As Turley wrote, “Obama could have refused to sign the bill and the Congress would have rushed to fund the troops. Instead, as confirmed by Sen. Levin, the White House conducted a misinformation campaign to secure this power while portraying Obama as some type of reluctant absolute ruler, or as Obama maintains a reluctant president with dictatorial powers.”
Obama’s apologists have spring into action, stating that he would never use the law unwisely, but that’s entirely beside the point.
While Obama is affable, reassuring and articulate, traits to which his predecessor surely could never lay claim, all that matters in the end is what the law of the land says. And what it says is pretty damn disturbing.