Examining Potential Ramifications of the National Defense Authorization Act

January 4, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Apparently consumed by what Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi calls the “most meaningless national election we’ve ever had,” the recent enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping law that some constitutional experts argue poses grave dangers to civil liberties, has garnered limited attention from the media.

In a three-part series for the People’s Blog for the Constitution, Shahid Buttar, in a Q-and-A format, explains why the NDAA, which President Obama signed at the end of December, deserves far more attention for its possible detrimental effects on civil liberties. (The bill does more than authorize billions in military spending, $662 billion to be exact. It also, as Buttar explains, provides the executive branch with potentially far-reaching powers to detain Americans suspected of terrorism-related activities. In signing the bill, Obama maintained he would never authorize indefinite military detention of Americans citizens, and that he would not feel compelled to try all suspects in military tribunals, as the law authorizes. Buttar’s exhaustive series, however, explains why such assurances are wobbly.)

Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, in his first blog post, “The NDAA: Another assault in the dead of night,” blasts Congress for supporting, with passage of the NDAA, “indefinite military detention of even US citizens.” The version that Obama signed into law contains provisions that only appear to limit the law’s reach, Buttar writes.

“Apologists for the NDAA,” Buttar states, “forget that laws remain fixed until changed, beyond the terms of particular officials who write them. And the ambiguity created by the law could be construed by future Presidents (or their advisors) to confer dramatic, sweeping powers to detain US citizens without a right to trial or Due Process. In the wrong hands, it could be used as a powerful tool to suppress dissent, with predictably catastrophic consequences.”

He concludes by maintaining the law’s detention provisions “will be worse in the future.” He continues, “We will live to regret ever even considering this law, and our leaders will be judged harshly for allowing it to become law without even a single congressional hearing and over the objections of concerned Americans all over the country.”

In his second post, “Torture enabling expanded detention: the NDAA in context,” Buttar says the NDAA was able to be hatched, in part, due to the current administration’s failure to prosecute former administration officials for running afoul of international law prohibiting torture and other inhumane or degrading treatment of military detainees.

“The NDAA’s detention provisions passed Congress,” Buttar continues, “only because neo-con figureheads (e.g., Cheney, Addington, Bybee, Yoo) evaded the investigation and prosecution required under international law for their crimes against humanity. When architects of human rights abuses receive continued power & prestige, rather than prison sentences (to which the rest of us remain subject to vastly less heinous crimes), their continued influence is predictable.”

Buttar’s concluding post, “What comes next? The future of the NDAA,” notes that while the enactment of the “NDAA may seem to reflect an inexorable creep of the national security state,” there are glimmers of hope for pushback.  

“Bills have already been introduced in the House and Senate,” he writes, “that would narrow the NDAA’s detention provisions. Voters in Montana have already started a recall campaign to remove the Senators who voted for the NDAA. And the Colorado county that houses the Air Force academy already passed a resolution declaring its opposition to detention without trial and support for constitutional rights. Each of these examples indicates opportunities for concerned Americans to raise our voices in the new year.”