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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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  • Commandant

    Well, with all the bad guys who have come into this country for the purpose of becoming citizens to cover their terrorist intentions, this might not be as bad as it seems. Personally, I am not concerned that I will be detained. OORAH!

  • SP2012

    It’s going to be the Salem Witch Trials all over again

  • SP2012

    It’s going to be the Salem Witch Trials all over again

  • Randsreeves

    this is truly scary.

  • http://twitter.com/soxin8 Bill Anderson

    What is scary about this law is what FBI and police could already get away with before this law was passed. To read my story of civil rights abuses, please search for “New police weapon against homeless” on homeless forums. Bill Anderson soxin8@hotmail.com

  • Samuel Adams

    Instead of saying that they’re paying closer attention to American Islam, they’ve threatened us all with potential detention if we appear to disagree with the government. We, apparently, haven’t kept the republic, Ben.  I wouldn’t really put an OORAH on that one.

  • Vulgrin

    Most aren’t concerned about it, until its too late and they are being shipped to Yemen for “questioning.”

  • Kaspa_vp

    You are a fool.

    “Those who would trade their liberty for security deserve neither.”
    Benjamin Franklin

  • Molinalawgroup

    1984 here we come. Orwell was on point…

  • Tom Daniels

    The way I read this law is.
        If you become a terrorist( or suspected of doing so) you can lose some of your rights protected by the constitution. 

     The law actually states you( the american citizen) have to be associated with the Taliban, Al Queda, or any like organization and do a belligerent act against America or its Allies.

     OR you were involved in the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States.

    Either way you must engage in some form of terrorism to have these powers go into effect.

     Just like a Felony, if you go out and commit a felony in this country you lose the right to bear arms and vote.  These are the rules we all play by (laws)

      If you decide to become a terrorist you will no longer be protected by the constitution!  

    This does not bother me at all, you should NOT get protected by the very document you wish to destroy!!

    Just like we don’t need felons  voting or carrying guns.

    And for those true conspiracy theorists go read 1031 section D.

    It literally says that this law is NOT expanding or limiting the powers of the President to use military force. on other words things remain the same.

    The NDAA is several hundred pages long and mostly talks about the appropriation of funds to our military, I don’t believe it changes our current living conditions one bit.  

    America is still the best place in the WORLD to live!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Mrdee50
  • John Meier

    That isnt the case AT ALL. If the government even SUSPECTS that you MIGHT have a tie to ANY terrorist organization, they can go into your home, remove you, transfer you and detain you without ANYONE knowing about it, including your lawyer or spouse. Who is to stop the president from saying any of us is a “suspect”? Or the next president? or the one after that? Hitler convinced an entire country that Jewish people were responsible for their economic downfall and that they were stealing jobs and taking money away from German citizens EVEN IF THE JEWS IN QUESTION WERE GERMAN NATIVES. Whose to stop Obama or any president in the future from saying “Caucasians are ruining our country. They are banning together and taking money from our pockets”. Then they round up all the Caucasians and put them in camps, indefinitely, until SOMEONE (who?) convinces the government otherwise. 

  • Gary

    Have you been to every place in the world?….

    Then how do you know it’s the best place to live?


  • Keith Guilliams

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. -Benjamin Franklin 

  • Jonathan Ricks

    I took a look, and it seems there is true suppression of the homeless by police  going on here.  Thanks for the eye-opener, and I hope other eyes can be opened as well.

  • Thomas Harrington

    He specifically requested these powers – why are we going to trust this man? Why would we trust someone who specifically said that he was going to shut down Gitmo (not request the power to indefinitely detain American citizens there without a trial)? Why would we trust Nixon/Kissinger or Bush/Cheney with this power?

  • Jerryg30

    This law not only means you can be held indefinitely, without any rights but if you are released you can’t tell anyone for violating the Patriot Act. So if the gov wants to silence you they can do so LEGALLY and no one would ever hear from you again, possibly. You would be a political prisoner with no rights if those in power chose this route. This has to be reversed. If an American citizen is siding with the enemy then charge him with treason and prove the case. This liberty is a very important point. A person MUST be allowed to defend himself.

  • Anonymous

    There’s still a chance to fix this!

    You can help eliminate indefinite detention and restore due process for US citizens by contacting your representatives and urging them to support the bill H.R.3676.

    H.R.3676 is a one page bill that in clear, unambiguous language amends the detainee provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 to specifically state that United States citizens may not be detained against their will without all the rights of due process afforded to citizens in a court ordained or established by or under Article III of the Constitution of the United States. http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h3676/show

  • Sherlock Holmes

    New Zealand is a better place to live. 

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  • Bobland

    It might be a new age, people — one which harkens an older age in which Nathan Hale made a firey, courageous statement.  I’m ready.  Are you?  If this is not the place to be, then I’m not afraid to leave.  It will be a matter of who decides to take me that determines when I leave, and they are going with me.

  • Hereandnow

    We all have to wake up and ask “Who is threatened by this ‘terrorism’ thing?”  Sure, 9/11 was real, but how many of us think our home and neighborhood and workplace are in danger? 

    So, if these places aren’t in danger, what is?  Who is afraid, and why?

    It is the controlling elite that are afraid, and I must say, they are afraid of US, in the end.  It is basic human GUILT.  When you know you are wrong, you get defensive and isolated.  When you know you are ripping-off the people to feed your distorted, soul-less ideas of personal wealth and power, you broadcast your guilt by over-protecting your nest.

    Think about it, America: who exactly is our country, power-wise?  Is it Obama or McCain or our congressmen?  No, they are but the few who try to manage things for the system.  YOU and I stand to lose little at the hands of a foreign “terrorist”, but the banks do, and NO ONE is going to threaten that system if it can be helped — including US, if we should happen to start believing what the ”terrorists” have already figured out about the system.

    None of this security is in place to protect your street or family.  It is in place, and growing in scope, to protect the financial system.  I don’t mean your savings account, either.  All of the structures are being put into place to prevent even US from having any way to protest meaningfully or impose change on the system.  It is a runaway train on tracks that we cannot afford or reach.

    Courage will come to all of us soon, be it through inner enlightenment or through unfortunate strife.  We should all be prepared to fly like eagles, even if it means out of this realm and to heaven.

  • Sly S

    Then why did Bret and Jemaine move here for a better life than they had on their sheep farms?


  • Jerryg30

    Tom, For me it’s not what they say but what they don’t say that should be of concern. This law gives the executive branch the power to detain American citizens indefinitely (if they are suspected of terrorism). Don’t you see? All that has to be done is a mild frame up and you are whisked off to the gulag. The only reason it is not happening at this minute is simply that there is no compelling reason for it to be done….yet.

  • Susancox1059

    This infringes on our rights without recourse and is another way of changing this country into either a socialistic or communistic country. people back in the day who were not communists saw just how bad it could get when they were arrested as suspected and lives were ruined. I feel sorry that my children are growing up at a time when the USA is no longer free. We are losing more and more rights every day and have little power to change things as they are. Politicians and government has disregarded the wants and needs of its people. 

  • george bush

    why in the hell is there a homeless forum?
    are the homeless using computers nowadays?

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelrhodes73 Michael Rhodes

    The DHS officially defines terrorists to include independent journalists and “lawful.. protestors”. America was the best place in the world. Now it is soon to be the most technologically advanced military dictatorship the world has ever seen. After SOPA is passed, even these comments will be illegal.

  • Chris Johnson

    What does a person  have to do to be considered a potential terrorist?
    Well let’s see . . . the “Patriot Act” says, ‘someone  who is missing fingers, some who has guns, someone who has ammunition that is weather proofed, someone who has more than seven days of food in their house . . . . can be considered a terrorist”

  • Ira Mead

    “America is still the best place in the WORLD to live!!!!!!!!!!!”
    This narrow-minded and self-centered sense of universal superiority is one of the worst things our culture has going for it. It’s time to stop spouting “home team” propaganda and examine our politicians based on the actions they take, and the bills they sign, and the effects of those decisions on We, the People. I’m tired of being sold on a bad deal by bad salesmen. NDAA is a scary precedent for what our leaders consider important, and for which systems they want to protect (the military “defense” budget, and the ability for the government to hunt the ever-ambiguous threat of terrorism). When was the last time anyone running for office proposed spending as much on programs for family, children, the elderly, or education as they have for “defense.” Oh, and the idea of a Bill of Rights in the first place is to protect our citizenry from unfair trial or imprisonment, no matter what actions they have taken. That is a right. There is no defensible reason to limit an individual’s, or a people’s rights. 

  • Chuck

    Actually Posse Comitatus doesn’t allow the use of Federal Troops on US Soil. The only military that can be used on US Soil are guard troops and then only when they are activated by the state. If the President activates them then they are federal troops!

  • Anonymous

    “Now I know some people want me to bypass congress and change the laws on my own. Believe me, right now, dealing with congress…” (Crowd: ”Yes You Can! Yes You Can!”) ”…but, but believe me the idea of doing things on my own are very tempting.”  – Barack Obama
    Actions speak louder than words, sometimes…other times, they just reinforce what has been said in rare moments of honesty.

  • ape

     In writing, this is correct. But exceptions can be made, and several have been made, e.g. the “war on drugs.”

  • ape

     In writing, this is correct. But exceptions can be made, and several have been made, e.g. the “war on drugs.”

  • Jdp

    I feel a new “Red Scare” among us…

  • Robert Clinton

    First of all for the government to suspect you, you would have to do something really stupid to get there attention in the first place hopefully this will keep all the gangs and threats down. And i dont think this changes anything the way we live or anything of that matter.

  • collin p.s.

    I have specifically read and reread the articles “claiming” that Congress has the authority to detain American citizens without trial. That is just untrue because it specifically states that it is NOT subjected to U.S. citizens. I find it a little inhumane to aliens, but then again, do people that plan on blowing others up because it’s against their religion deserve much humanity for their inhumanity? Seems to be a vicious cycle. If we’re going to be angry, we need to be angry at the press for feeding us their propaganda (surprisingly it wasn’t just Fox News this time), because as most of you, I was deeply angry until I did my own research because the world we live in is cruel – the only thing we want to see is drama and money. Do your own research and you will be enlightened. The reason why the bill is 920 pages long is because it touches over a variety of different things, such as military spending, don’t ask don’t tell, etc. It isn’t vague, it clearly defines itself. Quit being lazy by just accepting what others tell you because there are a lot of stupid people. You’d figure that you’d learn this a long time ago when people were claiming Obama was a Muslim and communist.

  • Voice Truth

    Are you kidding me do some research bud. IF you understand what this bill says then you should be worried. OORAH if your not a boot and a real marine then you should know that they are also restricting the right to bare arms and protect ourselves in case something does happen. Also why would we need to detain AMERICAN citizens without trial I mean isnt that what we have a justice department for? OORAH, you say what about the countless brothers we have lost in this dumb war, which haven’t we eliminated all the bad guys yet? What other terrorist threats are there? I just think it is funny how many people say blind to the fact of what is happening in this country and not giving a dam. Worst yet not educating themselves enough on whats going on in the world and just listening to whats on the TV,radio, newspapaers its not hard to see if you open your eyes

  • Quote

    “And will lose both”

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  • homey

    all they gotta do is say the word TERRORIST, and POOF, you disappear!
    whata great counrty we live in

  • Anonymous

    Finally, some common sense on this, facebook is rampant with misinformation on the facts of the bill. It is driving me crazy! Good to see someone is informed!

  • Geoff

    I thought it was Canada.

  • Andyyy85

    No, you don’t necessarily have to be doing anything stupid or illegal. If you read above, “being a terrorist” could be anything like “missing fingers, someone who has guns, someone who has weatherproofed ammo, someone who keeps more than 7 days worth of food…” the list goes on.

    Do you own a gun?

  • Shawn

    The military and government lawyers came to this conclusion: any
    citizen, American, British, Filipino, Sudanese, Mexican, literally any
    nations’ citizen found to be engaging in acts of terrorism will no
    longer be treated as a civilian but rather an enemy combatant. Thus, the
    “American citizens” detained under this provision are not afforded the
    constitutional rights granted in Amendments 4-8 because they are now
    considered enemy combatants by the U.S. government; they have forfeited
    their constitutional rights by engaging in act of terrorism against the
    country. Furthermore, when Ron Paul says, “the government is approaching totalitarianism … and can
    come into Americans’ homes and detain them,” he’s wrong on multiple
    fronts. First, there is oversight in this provision. These cases are always reviewed by the judicial and legislative
    branches. Therefore there are limits to the federal government’s power
    in this regard. If this was totalitarianism like in China or North Korea
    there would be no oversight and no limits to the government’s
    authority. Secondly, the average American citizen has no need to fear
    this provision because the average American citizen is not committing
    acts of terror. It is irresponsible and fear mongering at its best for
    Ron Paul to suggest that your run of the mill criminal will be
    indefinitely detained. As I mentioned above, this provision specifically
    deals with acts of terrorism.

  • Joe

    Re-read it again. Parse through it very carefully. Perhaps your grasp of legal syntax is not what you think it is.

  • Montgomeryvc

    So why hasn’t this been headline news on morning shows and evening shows?  Are the news stations and shows afraid to discuss it or being it to the public’s attention?   There is far too much secrecy in our country.  Too many rights handed to a group of individuals and removed from those of us who will have to live with and pay for this bill.  why is it against the law to have more then a week of food?  thats nuts.  why in the hell do they think people buy in bulk for… it saves money.  

  • Joe

    You might want to thoroughly review PATRIOT and how it modified FISA and ECPA, then review how NSLs are issued. The oversight you mentioned really doesnt exist, especially if recent executive orders concerning national emergencies come into play. Those NSLs were notoriously abused, and essentially issued on-demand by a rubber-stamp judge.

  • Babababoomdeay

    It seems that this could be used unfairly against those occupying wall street.   

    “When the people fear their
    government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people,
    there is liberty.” Thomas Jefferson

  • Shawn

    NSLs or National Security Letters have nothing to do with terrorist being detained. NSLs specifically deal with the FBI’s ability to gather consumer information on individuals. FISA, or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act specifically pertains to the NSA’s ability to engage in warrantless eavesdropping. Finally, the ECPA or Electronic Communications Privacy Act is a statue that prohibits third party communication interception. Amendments have been made to ECPA that enable law enforcement to engage in eavesdropping; i.e. CALEA in 94 and the Patriot Act. So tell me Joe, what is your point? Your reply has nothing to do with the thesis I stated. Once again, only individuals engaging in terrorist activities can be  detained indefinitely. And what are you talking about when you say, “Recent executive orders concerning national emergencies…”? Quit your fear mongering Joe. Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear. Someone in this thread made a good point. Why aren’t people up in arms about the liberties that are taken away from convicted felons? They lose their right to vote and right to bear arms once they are guilty of a felony. So why should we care about a homegrown terrorist losing their 4th,6th,8th Amendment rights?         


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