Levelheaded people can candidly disagree about what needs to be done to oppose the tactics of terror, employed by radicals who are hell-bent on killing Americans. We can have a rational debate regarding the extent to which robust American interventionism abroad sows the seeds of hatred. Defense policy presents big questions ranging from homeland security, to the use of private military contractors, to our involvement in NATO, and the budget priorities of national security. There’s a galaxy of issues out there for use to discuss, debate, and dispute.
However, when I read the language of the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867), a bill co-sponsored by the GOP’s Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, I could not process a policy so hysterically paradoxical to the freedom, liberty and constitution we proclaim to love.
Glenn Greenwald over at Salon identifies the most alarming aspects of the bill:
(1) mandates that all accused Terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; it also unquestionably permits (but does not mandate) that even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil accused of Terrorism be held by the military rather than charged in the civilian court system (Sec. 1032);
(2) renews the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) with more expansive language: to allow force (and military detention) against not only those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and countries which harbored them, but also anyone who “substantially supports” Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces” (Sec. 1031); and,
(3) imposes new restrictions on the U.S. Government’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo (Secs. 1033-35).
While I’m certain Greenwald isn’t the most popular policy mandarin among The Spectacle‘s readership, he has isolated an authentic threat. Likewise, I’m not always on board with Rep. Paul, but I was distressed by his remarks that this potential suspension of due process and civilian trial would be the first of its sort since the American Civil War. We’ve had a decade to process the lessons of 9/11. I always thought that the wars being fought overseas would eventually draw to a close. I wouldn’t have guessed that they’d simply embed themselves right here at home. Perhaps we’ve become addicted to our fear. Perhaps it gives us some small comfort to assume that we’re being well protected.
But consider the context. We’re not talking about the hassle of dealing with that “crack squad of savvy, motivated personnel” manning hand-wands and sporting royal blue TSA frocks. I suppose we can live with in a world where our liquids, gels and aerosols must be tucked ever-so-less-ominously into 3.4 oz. containers. “Enhanced pat-downs” still seem ridiculous…but I digress.
This bill represents a shocking, yet formal codification of what we’ve come to understand as right and proper in a post-9/11 world.
Some of you may be willing to accept this as a necessary evil…the overhead cost of a living in a country that’s increasingly less free than we’d like to admit. Some of you may be comfortable being told this makes you safer. I happen to prefer the modest benefits of due process and that old chestnut habeus corpus.
I’m not willing to engage in conspiracy theorizing regarding the senators’ intentions for this bill. I don’t believe they’re initiating some Orwellian super-state. They’re probably very well intentioned. However, I’m personally disinclined to tolerate this “security” grotesquerie masquerading as the responsible stewardship of our collective safety. I refuse to surrender my freedoms because I’m being told to be afraid. Something about “the land of the free, and the home of the brave,” keeps ringing in my ears.
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