The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act appears to give the US military sweeping powers to detain US Citizens. On its face, it appears the basic constitutional guarantees of due process are under fire as a result of the so called war on terror.
Image by George Cassutto
Used with permission
More than ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the civil rights of
Americans citizens are being threatened. In December of this year, the US Senate passed the 2011
Defense Authorization Act, and the House of Representatives followed suit. In it, the bill states that
American citizens who have been identified as suspected terrorists can be detained without being
informed of the charges or without trial. President Obama first threatened to veto the bill, not because
it clearly violated key elements of the Bill of Rights and of the denied powers of Congress as listed in
Section 9 of Article I of the US Constitution, but because it limited the power of the executive to carry
out such detentions. In essence, President Obama’s veto threat was based on a grab of greater
executive military power than then bill originally intended.
Instead, President Obama signed the bill on the 200th anniversary of the passage of the Bill of Rights.
It is still unclear if the bill gives the president sweeping executive and judicial powers in respect to the
indefinite detention of American citizens. The bill is purported to declare the entire United States a
battlefield so that anyone captured within its borders can be held by the US military without charge
or trial if that person is suspected to be an Al Qaeda operative, sympathizer of member of the Taliban
or affiliated groups. A careful reading of the Constitution reveals that:
The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when
in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.
These provisions in Article 1 of the Constitution deny the government the power to detain US citizens indefinitely without charge or trial.
It appears that President Obama will issue “signing statements” that qualify his willingness to enforce objectionable aspects of the NDAA. The use of signing statements to indicate which parts of the law a given president will enforce is repugnant to some as a blurring of the separation of powers between the branches and the checks and balances system so artfully written into the Constitution. It is also not a guarantee that the constitutional rights of Americans will be protected under the 2012 NDAA.
The argument has been made that the president’s first duty is to uphold the Constitution of the United States. President Obama has expressed the idea that the president’s first job is “to keep the American people safe.” If President Obama allows the US Government such sweeping powers to as to impose perpetual martial law over the American citizenry, it would seem that the American people have become less safe, not due to potential external terrorist attack, but from the loss of civil liberties from within.