Since the creation of the Magna Carta 797 years ago, English speaking people have lived with this freedom: “No free man shall be imprisoned…nor will we proceed with force against him…except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor…by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
While you and I were celebrating the holidays and ringing in a New Year, the Senate was quietly passing legislation by a 93 to 7 vote that violates the Sixth Amendment – your right to a trial. The bill was signed into law by President Obama in spite of the protests of the Secretary of Defense, the CIA Director, the FBI Director, the Director of National Intelligence, the White House Advisor on Counterterrorism and the head of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division. What piece of legislation was so important to the safety of all Americans that the House, Senate and President, Senators Feinstein and Boxer along with Congressmen Lewis and Bono Mack disregarded the warnings of these highly respected security experts who all felt the bill was unwise?
The bill was the National Defense Authorization Act. It allows the government to detain anyone anywhere in the world indefinitely, including inside of the borders of the United States, so long as the government suspects you of being a terrorist or a person tied to a terrorist group or activity. No charges need ever be brought. No evidence need ever be produced. So long as the government thinks that you are a threat, that is enough. The government can lock up any American without charge, trial or evidence indefinitely.
Is it unfathomable that a future President could engage in demagoguery similar to McCarthyism, the Salem witch trials or the actions of a despot for their own political purposes and act against the will of the people?
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a trial yet this bill runs contrary to the US Constitution and our Bill of Rights. One of the bills architects, Carl Levin of Michigan said, “the bill would just let the government detain a citizen in military custody, not force it to do that.”
Senator Al Franken of Minnesota stated that this bill “denigrates the very foundations of this country” while Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said that this bill “puts every single American citizen at risk.” FBI director Robert Mueller testified that this bill could harm our counterterrorism efforts abroad.
In May, Judge Katherine Forrest, ruled that the indefinite detention provision could not be used against Americans. She specific stated that the bill could have “a chilling impact on First Amendment rights” and ruled that the government cannot imprison Americans just because it thinks you might be tied to a terrorist group. Proof is needed. Nine days later, the Obama Administration asked the judge to reconsider its ruling and offered to exclude from the law the people who brought forward the lawsuit. Judge Forrest denied the motion with the only caveat being that the government could detain those directly tied to the September 11th terrorist attacks so long as it produced proof.
Chris Hedges, one of the journalists who brought the lawsuit said, “I have dinner more times than I can count with people whom this country brands as terrorist…but that does not make me one.”
As quoted in last week’s column, Benjamin Franklin’s warning is more true today than at any point in our history, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”