House Passes NDAA & White House Won't Veto Indefinite Detention

December 15, 2011

Update 12/31: President Obama signs the NDAA into law.

© Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

The House passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday 283 -136. The bill will make President Obama the first President since the red scare in the McCarthy era to sign a law to introduce indefinite detention in the US. It will keep the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, open potentially forever.

The Non Detention Act of 1971 was introduced specifically to address the indignities suffered by Japanese Americans interned during WW2 and the NDAA is the first bill to seek to actively turn that page back.

Ten years after the attacks of 9-11 with Osama Bin Laden finally removed from the equation, do we really need more draconian powers to undermine the liberties of US citizens? And why would we place that trust in this government, or blindly hand it to a future administration.

The bill’s supporters say it does not require the military detention of US citizens indefinitely in the US, but it also does nothing to protect their rights internationally. The bill does nothing to protect the country, it makes it more difficult to keep Americans safe at home and abroad. It creates a confusing landscape in which many of our best tools: FBI, law enforcement and courts are going to be less able to do what they do best to deal with terrorism.

The head of the FBI Robert Mueller, testified on Capitol Hill yesterday,

“I still have concerns and uncertainties that are raised by the statute. Given the statute the way it is now, it does not give me a clear path to certainty as to what is going to happen when arrests are made in a particular case. And the facts are gray as they often are at that point.”

The utter confusion in Congress and among lawyers of the effect of this bill, underlines a deeper truth, that it creates confusion exactly where the bills supporters said we need certainty: potential adversaries need to know that domestic and external tools will be relentlessly aimed at them.

The bill muddies the waters, does nothing to protect Americans civil liberties, or national security. The bill does not protect anyone, and creates a double standard between the detention of citizens and non citizens, undermining the fundamental principle of equality before the law.

In the 1950s then Senator Kennedy wrote a book – “Profiles in Courage”, wags said he needed to show less profile and more courage. This administration shows neither profile nor courage. It is a purely political and tactical decision that creates a terrible precedent and undermines a core value.

It could be said that in the circumstances the White House made the best judgement it could when faced with tough political realities in the House and Senate. But when we look back it will be seen as yet another time when those we elected to lead, instead followed. And those we look to defend our values chose to erode them.

Does anyone really believe Ayman Al Zawahiri sleeps any less soundly today than yesterday? It makes not one ounce of difference to the essential struggle. But instead Al Qaeda can claim comfort knowing that we are chasing our tails and eroding our values.