The Controversy Behind Obama’s New Defense Bill

Obama’s first presidential act of 2012 was the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act. This new strategy gets rid of the old strategy of the United States being able to wage two wars simultaneously and promises budget cuts over the next ten years.  The tide of war was receding and the US must renew its economic power the president said in a January 5th press conference

“Our military will be leaner,” Obama told reporters, “but the world must know – the United States is going to maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats.”

So far so good right? Obama kept his promise of ending the Iraq war. Troop drawdown in Afghanistan is already under way and the United States is shifting its policy away from long-term nation building. And these things are good since everyone witnessed how the cost for both wars drained the economy. The media reported this as the unveiling of a new strategy as America goes into a new direction post the Iraq War. What the media didn’t report was the provisions in the bill, which allow for the indefinite military detention of Americans without trial; and Obama just signed that into law. Remember the Patriot Act? Remember who passed it? The fuss behind the Patriot Act still continues and now there is fuss behind Obama’s new legislation.

Obama expressed reservations about the bill, but still signed it. The Senate tried on two occasions to amend the bill that specifically forbids the indefinite military detention of Americans. Senator Mark Udall introduced an amendment intended to forbid the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens that got rejected by a vote of 37–61 and also Senator Dianee Feinstein attempted to add an amendment to instead say that Americans are exempt from detention under the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists act of 2001, which was signed by President George W Bush. That also was rejected by a 55 to 45 vote. Senator and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and ranking Republican committee member Sen. John McCain supported the original bill in its entirety and unchanged. It was passed unchanged by the senate and signed unchanged by the President.

The criticism drawn from other politicians, government watch groups, and media outlets about the bill is because of the text in sections 1021 and 1022 as they have been called a violation of constitutional principles and the Bill of Rights. Section 1021 (c-1) allows “Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of hostilities.” A President can declare that he is in a war without an end and justify any actions taken under this text.  It also states in section (b-2) states that the law applies not just to members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but to any person who has “substantially supported” “associated forces.” The language is loose and is only left up to interpretation by Obama or any other future president.

Obama’s official statement  states that his administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. If Obama really wanted to he could ask Congress to amend the controversial sections listed, but there is no intention of him doing that as his administration and supporters of the bill continue to dismiss the contention that American citizens can be detained indefinitely. But the bill does not dismiss the AUMF act of 2001, plus the language causes alarm for groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Watch.

“The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States” is stated in section 1022 (b-1) of the bill. Notice the word “requirement”. It is not “required” to detain Americans, but the President can still do so. Remember what happened to Japanese Americans in World War 2? Remember the McCarthyism and the Red Scare, which blacklisted many innocent Americans because of alleged ties to communism? Keep in mind Guantanamo Bay is still open for business and one of Obama’s campaign promises was to close Guantanamo Bay. No detainee has left Guantanamo Bay in a year because of restrictions on transfers. Now we see a law passed condoning the indefinite military detention without trial, it makes you wonder if we are indeed moving forward post the Bush Presidency,

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), called Obama’s action “a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law. Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today.”