The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a recurring federal law that has been adopted on an annual basis for each of the past 48 years. Broadly speaking, it seeks to establish the budget for the United States Department of Defense.
This year, the 2012 NDAA has been passed with a controversial new proviso. According to section 1031, United States citizens may now be held for indefinite detention, without access to either a trial or a fair hearing. Such detention “under the law of war” could last “until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
When the bill was first being considered in the upper chamber of the United States Congress, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) proposed an amendment to the 2012 NDAA, which would have expressly protected American citizens from this Act. Unfortunately, in a rather short-sited move, the Senate voted the amendment down, leaving Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) with the unenviable task of drafting a new amendment to try to salvage the rights of American citizens. While Feinstein’s amendment was passed by a vote of 99-1, the wording was extremely vague, allowing for broad latitude in interpretation. Feinstein herself believes that current U.S. law prohibits indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, while senators such as John McCain and Carl Levin and even the Obama administration itself argues that current law allows for such detention. Thus, the Feinstein amendment ultimately means nothing; and the 2012 NDAA stands.
So what does this have to do with Christians? And why is this being discussed on a website about theology and culture? Because Christians have an obligation to stand up for justice. And any system that allows for the indefinite detention of its citizens is, at bare minimum, on the road towards injustice and tyranny. This is why the Founding Fathers of the United States saw fit to pass the first ten amendments, the sixth of which reads as follows:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
So what do you think? If a man or a woman is suspected of colluding with terrorists, should that trump his or her right to a fair and speedy trial? Should it trump the sixth amendment? And what does it say about us, as a society, when we allow fear to be a governing force in restricting access to justice? Should we do this in the interest of preventing another September 11th? Or do we lose something just as valuable as the lives we lost on that infamous day, when, in seeking to defeat the monster, we become the monster ourselves?
 Knickerbocker, Brad (3 December, 2011). “Guantánamo for US citizens? Senate bill raises questions”. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 18, 2011.