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The NDAA Debate: What It Means, and Why it Matters

by Amanda Fox-Rouch | Hunter College

F Posted in: News and Politics P Posted on: January 4, 2012
Barack Obama Image Courtesy of westernrifleshooters.wordpress.com

On the last day of 2011, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA).

This alone is hardly an unusual occurrence; the National Defense Authorization Act itself has been signed into law every year for nearly the past fifty. One of its main objectives is to allow the government to continue funding national security interests and the military for the next fiscal year.

This year’s bill, however, was different. One of the provisions included in the 2012 NDAA is one that allows for American citizens suspected of terrorism to be indefinitely detained in military custody without charge or trial. As Pfc. Bradley Manning begins the pre-trial hearing process after nearly 18 months of being held in military detention, the president has just signed into law a bill that will allow the military to treat American civilians in a similar fashion if they are suspected of conducting activities related to domestic terrorism.

The Obama administration had threatened to veto the bill as long as it contained the indefinite detention provision, but changed course shortly before the final version was voted on by Congress.

In a letter to the public released following the signing of the document, Obama explained why he signed the bill with the indefinite detention provision attached to it. He states that his signature on the bill is necessary to continue funding for military and national security interests. Of the indefinite detention provision, he says that the version of the bill he signed had been revised to eliminate any provisions that would threaten the freedom of American citizens.

Legal scholar Jonathan Turley purports that despite what Obama says in his statement, the revisions made to the bill were merely rhetorical in nature, and that it ultimately provides the military with “extraordinary powers” to detain American citizens without providing them with a fair trial. Despite what Obama has said on the topic, Turley says that the powers imparted to the military and the Obama administration by way of this bill are cause for concern.

This is amplified by the fact that American citizens who are being investigated for being suspected of terrorism cannot inform others about the investigation without facing prosecution as per provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Coupled with the NDAA, a citizen wrongly suspected of terrorist activities could now theoretically be held in military detention for months without trial, and be released only to be restricted from taking legal action against his captors.

The implications of this legislation reflect the idea that certain liberties and freedoms must be sacrificed in the name of protecting the country from further terrorist attacks — a notion that is widely disputed by various groups concerned with civil liberties.

The signing of this year’s NDAA has been decried in a statement released by the ACLU, which says that the bill “…violates international law because it is not limited to people captured in the context of an actual armed conflict as required by the laws of war.”

This, and the broader topic of how to preserve liberty while countering possible terrorist threats, will surely be a major question for the contenders of the 2012 election to handle. The discussion prompted by the signing of the NDAA touches upon the contentious issue of how the U.S. government is expected to respect the Bill of Rights while maintaining the country’s security by diffusing threats in a preventative manner.

One of the other provisions of the bill is said to make the closing of Guantanamo Bay more difficult, as it restricts the transfer of cleared detainees from the facility for resettlement and repatriation purposes.

Overall, the signing of the NDAA leaves us with the impression that the current president has shown few significant differences from the Bush administration in terms of post-9/11 national security policy. The PATRIOT Act was renewed by Obama earlier this year, the Guantanamo Bay detention center remains open, and now the recently-signed NDAA has extended the powers of the military to include the detainment of American citizens indefinitely without trial.

Amanda Fox-Rouch Amanda Fox-Rouch Amanda Fox-Rouch is currently a student pursuing an undergraduate Political Science degree at Hunter College in New York City. She is interested in the stories of those who are typically silenced by the selectivity of the mainstream media. Find her on Twitter @afoxrouch.

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  • Alexandrabowles

    Apathy to the blatant destruction of the Bill of Rights is simply not acceptable.  Speak now or forever lose the right to be heard.  Silence = acquiescence.

  • AlphaProphet

    No reason to worry.  They’re just negating the very freedoms that the forefathers of this country fought for while at the same time eliminating due process of the law.  They now have the power to detain you without the right to a fair trial which is in the Bill of Rights!  How ignorant are people now to not see the NDAA as a threat to the American people? 

  • Linda

    Ladyjenbe, your friend who has cancer should look into clinical trials, they are usually free  because  they are a research program and they have saved the lives of many people who would have died because of inability to pay.

  • Joshk1995

    way to be an american steryotype. try to read it closer next time

  • anonymous

    sounds like what is haponing to mexican-americans

  • anonymous

    good thing sopa didnt pass :)

  • anonymous

    the funny thing is that passing this law is just what the terrorists want. they want america to be afraid. this law is proof that its working.welcome to nazi america every body. im moveing to canada

  • Citizen_Patriot

    The average person on the street has no idea what the NDAA is or stands for.  Take a random sampling from your friends and associates and ask if they know who the Secretary of State is…

    The fact of the matter is the US national news has only briefly touched on this subject.  To get a really subjective view point you have to look to external news sources (Irish Times, BBC [NOT BBC America] and the like).

    Many, maybe most Americans are worried about keeping their jobs, keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families.  Personally I work 12 to 14 hours a day and spend another 4 to 6 hours ‘watch-dogging’ the below the radar news quips.

    Weekends are spent training my kids and wife on how to read maps and preping for social breakdown, stock pilling canned food goods and water.  Our parents are now doing the same and they thought we were nuts when we started this 6 months ago!

    The American people are not ignorant (well, not the majority) but they have been side tracked by the Federal Governments diversions that have been and are playing out even now.  Has anybody seen what’s going on in Hungry now?  Heard any news??  If you do then you know what we’re headed for unless we take action now!

  • Fag0mop

    I wish they would just tear up the entire Constitution to get those terrorists.

  • Dismayed

    Actually, the American Japanese had this same experience during WWII when they were put in internment camps simply because they had come from Japan or had Japanese ancestry.  They were given no trials and were put in indefinite detainment until after the war ended because they “might be dangerous”.  This bill counters everything that the Founding Fathers tried to protect with the Bill of Rights.

  • Momo

    you are right my friend, this extraordinary human experiment known as America is over, and this is by courtesy of the Military Industrial Complex, the Rockefeller, the Rothschild, and the Morgans.  most of the politicians, State or Federal have been bought and paid for and the only thing we can do is to change the system.  and this will take time, and effort by all Americans.  just be smart and dig deep its all there, just read.

  • Blhh27

    The question is what is constitutes a person being suspected of  terrorism? Would this include anyone that pickets, demonstrates, or talks against a government agency or the government itself? Would it include people that are ‘anti-technology” or people who store up more than a weeks worth of food? what a bout the Amish and those who just want to have a simple life, Would they ave to worry about being arrested and imprisoned  without cause? What about freedom of speech, the right to speak out against the government if the people are have issue with the way things are being done. Will we now have to keep our mouths shut and go with whatever the government tells us or be thrown in prison with out trial?  Who will stop the government if they decide to do these type of things? Who will even know???

  • Dukesbonner

    YOUR NAME SAYS IT FOR YOU (commandant)

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