The National Defense Authorization Act For The Fiscal Year 2012 – don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t heard of it, because there isn’t a single major news network running a story on it, and those that have dropped its name have done so in the most sickeningly nonchalant manner possible. However, the implications of this bill are very real. They are blatantly unconstitutional. They are downright terrifying. Worst of all, they’re gaining momentum.
As the title of the bill implies, this is not the first NDAA bill ever proposed – on the contrary, there has been a similar bill put through Congress every year for the last forty-eight years. This is because the NDAA is typically nothing more than the budget for the Department of Defense in the coming fiscal year, with the occasional footnote about someone receiving the Medal of Honor, and the ever amusing “sense of Congress” passages (“It is the sense of Congress that we are at war with Al-Qaeda”) are brilliant stuff. But there’s something very different about this year’s bill.
The contents of this bill redefine the War on Terror as a completely global war – and yes, that includes United States soil. I bet you hadn’t even noticed you’d been living a war zone this entire time, had you? But according to this bill, your front lawn is just as much a part of the conflict as downtown Kabul. Why does this matter, you ask? What makes this anything more than a silly, semantic definition? Well, I’ll tell you why: because if your backyard is no better than Baghdad, it gives the United States Armed Forces leave to carry out police action within our borders and seize enemy combatants to be held indefinitely, without charge or trial. And if you didn’t know that your backyard was a battlefield, I’d bet my bottom dollar you had no idea that you too could be an enemy combatant. That’s right – United States citizens are not exempt.
Section 1031 of this bill gives the military the authority to apprehend anyone suspected of terrorist activity and hold them “until the end of hostilities” – a roundabout way of saying forever. Likewise, “suspected” is nothing more than a codeword for probable cause, which is itself little more than another way of saying “it’s pretty much entirely arbitrary.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was quick to point out some of the more absurd activities which are considered to be suspicious, such as having more than seven days’ worth of food in your home. At least that keeps college students safe, I suppose. No one ever fed an underground terrorist cell on two packets of ramen noodles. All right, no more jokes.
“But never fear!” says the skeptic, “part of the bill says it doesn’t apply to Americans!” Don’t fall for it. Senators McCain and Levin, the comic book villains who authored this madness from their offices at the Legion of Doom, have thrown us a bone: indeed, there is a paragraph in section 1032 that states, “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” But the wording is intentionally misleading; it only states that indefinite detention is not unilaterally required for citizens suspected of terrorist activity. But paragraph four of the very same section says that indefinite may be allowed by the Secretary of Defense (or the President) at any time in the interest of “national security.” In a nutshell: indefinite detention is not required for United States citizens, but it can be “if we say so.”
I know the whole thing sounds crazy. I know it sounds like it could never pass. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s gaining momentum. The NDAA has already passed the Senate with a staggering vote of 93-7. Two possible amendments to the bill, which would have removed the harmful provisions, were proposed by Senators Udall and Feinstein, but both of them were shot down. Despite the clearly poisonous implications of this bill, it has passed the Senate largely unchanged. And my inner cynic tells me that the vote in the House will fare little better. President Obama has threatened a veto (and kudos to him for that), but I still have my doubts. This bill is, after all, over 900 pages worth of budget. If Obama wants to veto Sections 1031 and 1032, he’s going to have to veto the entire thing, which could cause a fair bit of grumbling from the Armed Forces.
This bill puts your constitutional rights on the chopping block.. Ninety-three of your Senators betrayed you this past week, and gambled away your basic freedoms in the name of “security.” Let them know that we will not stand for this. Send the emails, make the phone calls. Make your voice heard, and make them listen. Otherwise, say fare-thee-well to Amendments IV through VIII of the Bill of Rights – you won’t be needing them in Battlefield America.