Privacy SOS

Who says we need charges and trials? This is America!

How often do Tea Party Republicans take a stand with liberal Democrats for the civil liberties protections guaranteed by the US Constitution?  It should be a winning combination – right?

Not in 2012 in this US Congress. In a May 18th vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) put forward by Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and Justin Amash (R-MI), a freshman aligned with the Tea Party, the House by a vote of 238-182 upheld Section 1021 of the 2012 NDAA permitting terrorist suspects apprehended within the US – including US citizens – to be held indefinitely without charges or trial, possibly in military detention.

The vote came after 40 prominent retired generals and admirals sent a letter to Members of Congress asserting that “within the United States, those accused of terrorism crimes should face charges in a civilian court, consistent with our constitutional values” and after an array of groups from the ACLU to the Gun Owners of America urged the lawmakers to support the Smith-Amash amendment.

How did opponents of the Smith-Amash amendment, including the 19 Democrats who voted against it, justify their vote? At least one “no” vote – that cast by Keith Ellison (D-MN), the sole Muslim in the House – was reportedly made in error. Others said that if terrorists knew they would be guaranteed constitutional rights they would be “encouraged to attack on US soil.” So the rights have got to go!

Just two days before Congress voted to throw out the constitutional guarantee of due process, US District Court Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that Section 1021 of the NDAA was unconstitutional.  A group of plaintiffs including journalist Chris Hedges, linguist Noam Chomsky and Pentagon Papers’ Daniel Ellsberg had argued that the provision would chill their First Amendment rights  – and the judge agreed, granting the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction blocking its enforcement. 

As Hedges subsequently wrote about the NDAA, “The law was, after all, not about foreign terrorism. It was about domestic dissent.  If the state could link Occupy and other legitimate protest movements with terrorist groups, then the provisions in the NDAA could, in a period of instability, be used to ‘disappear’ US citizens into military gulags, including the government’s offshore penal colonies. And once there, stripped of due process, detainees could be held until, in the language of the law, ‘the end of hostilities.’ In an age of permanent war that would be a lifetime.”

It seems that such a possibility suits the majority of the House of Representatives just fine. 

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.