The Depressing Reality of Indefinite Detention

After all the promises from both Obama and Congressional leaders that indefinite detention for Americans would not be written into law, the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act contains exactly that.

What can we conclude from that? That both the executive branch including Barack Obama, Janet Napolitano and Eric Holder and majority elements of the legislative branch — the Senate voted 81-14, and the House voted 305-107 — want the power to detain Americans indefinitely without charge or trial. And why would they want the power if they didn’t intend to use it?

Ron Paul:

The now-infamous NDAA for fiscal year 2012, passed last year, granted the president the authority to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge, without access to an attorney, and without trial. It is difficult to imagine anything more un-American than this attack on our Constitutional protections. While we may not have yet seen the widespread use of this unspeakably evil measure, a wider application of this “authority” may only be a matter of time.

Historically these kinds of measures have been used to bolster state power at the expense of unpopular scapegoats. The Jewish citizens of 1930s Germany knew all about this reprehensible practice. Lately the scapegoats have been mostly Muslims. Hundreds, perhaps many more, even Americans, have been held by the US at Guantanamo and in other secret prisons around the world.

Rand Paul:

When you’re accused of a crime in our country you get a trial, you get a trial by a jury of your peers, no matter how heinous your crime is, no matter how awful you are, we give you a trial.

And children of those indefinitely detained during World War 2 have launched a legal challenge to the status quo:

The children of Japanese-Americans whose internment during World War II was upheld by the infamous Supreme Court ruling Korematsu v. United States are stepping into a new legal battle over whether the military can indefinitely detain American citizens.

Writing that their parents “experienced first-hand the injustice resulting from a lack of searching judicial scrutiny,” the children of Fred Korematsu and other Japanese-Americans who were interned filed a brief on Monday in support of a lawsuit against the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. Critics say the law allows the military to lock Americans away without trial merely on suspicion of support for terrorist organizations.

“During WWII, President Roosevelt essentially issued the military a ‘blank check,’” Korematsu’s children wrote in a friend-of-the-court brief. The military’s orders, “to which the Court uncritically deferred, culminated in the internment. In reviewing the NDAA’s new detention provision, the courts cannot afford to mimic the wartime Supreme Court’s failure.”

Then, America was at war with nations. Once a peace treaty was signed, the vile, racist detention ended. But for those detained under an accusation of being a part of decentralised groups like al-Qaeda, or Wikileaks, or Anonymous there are no peace treaties, no definite end to hostilities.

And while the judiciary has so far thrown out indefinite detention as unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, this has not stopped the legislative and executive branches of government from bulldozing on. Obama, the “constitutional scholar” defends the principle of the indefinite detention of Americans. The neocon triumvirate of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Joe Lieberman continue to demand it.

This is terrible. If evidence exists of lawbreaking, suspects can be charged and tried. If the government has no evidence that can stand up in court, it shouldn’t be in the business of detaining anyone.

Today the detained may be those accused of being members of al-Qaeda, Wikileaks, or Anonymous. Tomorrow, who knows who might find themselves in the crosshairs of indefinite detention — journalists, whistleblowers, dissidents. As Naomi Wolf noted when Judge Katherine Forrest first struck down indefinite detention:

Forrest asked repeatedly, in a variety of different ways, for the government attorneys to give her some assurance that the wording of section 1021 could not be used to arrest and detain people like the plaintiffs. Finally she asked for assurance that it could not be used to sweep up a hypothetical peaceful best-selling nonfiction writer who had written a hypothetical book criticizing US foreign policy, along lines that the Taliban might agree with. Again and again the two lawyers said directly that they could not, or would not, give her those assurances. In other words, this back-and-forth confirmed what people such as Glenn Greenwald, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the ACLU and others have been shouting about since January: the section was knowingly written in order to give the president these powers; and his lawyers were sent into that courtroom precisely to defeat the effort to challenge them. Forrest concluded: ”At the hearing on this motion, the government was unwilling or unable to state that these plaintiffs would not be subject to indefinite detention under [section] 1021. Plaintiffs are therefore at risk of detention, of losing their liberty, potentially for many years.

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Judge Katherine Forrest is a Modern American Hero

Sometimes, the greatest deeds are done by those who are just doing their jobs, like Judge Katherine Forrest who last week struck down the indefinite detention provision (§1021) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

It would be all too easy in this age of ever-encroaching authoritarianism in America for a judge ruling on a matter like this to just go with the government line and throw water over the plaintiffs. After all, telling truth to power has consequences. Forrest was appointed by Obama, but after this ruling one wonders whether she is about to meet a career dead-end. Power — especially narcissistic power — does not like being told uncomfortable truths.

Everything about this case is shameful; it should be obvious to anyone who can read the Constitution that indefinite detention without trial (just like assassination without trial — something else that Obama and his goons have no problem practicing and defending) is hideously and cruelly unconstitutional. It defecates upon both the words and the spirit of the document.

It is directly and completely in contravention to the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

It is shameful that this law was proposed, it is shameful that any legislator would vote for it, and it is shameful that the President would sign it into law, albeit with a flimsy signing-statement claiming that he would not use the indefinite detention provision against American citizens.

More shameful still is the fact that when this challenge was brought that the Obama administration tried to dismiss it on a technicality — they tried to make the case that because none of the plaintiffs were to be indefinitely detained that they could not challenge the law. Judge Forrest’s investigation of this claim was revealing. Naomi Wolf notes:

Forrest asked repeatedly, in a variety of different ways, for the government attorneys to give her some assurance that the wording of section 1021 could not be used to arrest and detain people like the plaintiffs. Finally she asked for assurance that it could not be used to sweep up a hypothetical peaceful best-selling nonfiction writer who had written a hypothetical book criticizing US foreign policy, along lines that the Taliban might agree with. Again and again the two lawyers said directly that they could not, or would not, give her those assurances. In other words, this back-and-forth confirmed what people such as Glenn Greenwald, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the ACLU and others have been shouting about since January: the section was knowingly written in order to give the president these powers; and his lawyers were sent into that courtroom precisely to defeat the effort to challenge them. Forrest concluded: “At the hearing on this motion, the government was unwilling or unable to state that these plaintiffs would not be subject to indefinite detention under [section] 1021. Plaintiffs are therefore at risk of detention, of losing their liberty, potentially for many years.

Very simply, it is now obvious that the NDAA was written not to deal with terrorists or potential terrorists. After all, if the government has evidence that an individual or group is planning to commit a terrorist attack then they do not need an indefinite detention provision; all they need is to arrest such individuals and prove beyond reasonable doubt before a jury of their peers that a crime has been committed. That is how justice works — if the evidence exists you can bring a successful prosecution. After all if they do not have the evidence to prove that a group or individual was planning to commit an act of terrorism then they have no business arresting them or charging them with any offense. Suspects — lest we forget — are innocent until proven guilty.

These new powers have nothing to do with combatting terrorism. If the government has no evidence that can stand up in a court of law it has no business detaining anyone. No, this new power grab has an entirely different target — like the plaintiffs in this case: writers, investigative journalists, bloggers, philosophers, dissidents, human rights activists, libertarians, free-thinkers, tax protestors, critics of fractional-reserve banking, whistleblowers — people like Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, and Birgitta Jonsdottir. People like Congressman Justin Amash and Congressman Adam Smith who tried to amend indefinite detention out of the bill. People like me — and to some degree, if you are reading this, people like you. 

The fact that the Obama administration could not give assurances about those who simply criticise U.S. foreign policy indicates very strongly that this power grab is about shutting-up and frightening critics of the U.S. government and the Obama administration.

But — for now —  §1021 of the NDAA, that implement of fascism, has been struck down and thrown out as “facially unconstitutional” as well as having a “chilling impact on First Amendment rights”.

We should be thankful for this brave judge’s actions, and for the plaintiffs’ actions in standing up to tyranny, and vigilant against future incursions.

On the other hand, every politician involved in writing, legislating and authorising this hideous unconstitutional law should be reminded of the words of the Declaration of Independence — it is the right of the people to alter or abolish any government that becomes destructive to liberty.