Burning Down the Constitution as We Lay the Foundation for a New Guantanamo Bay

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.[1]  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.[2]

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?

[2] Knickerbocker, Brad (3 December, 2011). “Guantánamo for US citizens? Senate bill raises questions”. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 18, 2011.

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11 Responses to Burning Down the Constitution as We Lay the Foundation for a New Guantanamo Bay

  1. Excellent and profoundly accurate article. Judge Napolitano mentioned on his show recently that this is the first time since Reconstruction that the U.S. military has been allowed to be involved in domestic law enforcement. You know the old saying. Those who give up their freedom in order to pursue security will end up being neither secure nor free.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Josh. I fear that these sorts of laws are being passed with little notice because everyone is focused on returning our national/global economy to a state of “inflated normalcy.”

  2. Supreme Court gets the last say in these matters. IF it is signed into law it will be challenged. I cannot see how this provision of the bill will stand.

    • From what I have read, the IF you pose is not so much an IF as a WHEN. Obama threatened to veto this without the amendment. But the implication was, if they passed the amendment, he’d sign it. I guess we’ll see.

      As for the the Supreme Court, I don’t think that’s nearly as easy to predict these days as it has been in the past, especially when it comes to matters of national security. Again, we’ll see.

      In either case, you have the legislature and presumably the executive branch working together towards this goal. This is not a good day for the Constitution.

  3. Mary DeVries Yager says:

    This is why I am a democrat…come to the dark side.

    • Mary … There are currently 51 Democrats in the Senate and only 47 Republicans. The original bill in the Senate passed by a vote of 93-7 and the reconciled bill passed by a vote of 86-13. I hate to tell you this, but this was a bi-partisan failure of the highest order.

  4. Brenda says:

    Wow! This week has been so busy…unfortunately this means I am out of the loop, how can we find out who voted for this? Any links? How did the Republicans pass this without Democrats? (If I understand Mary’s comment correctly.) I pray there is a challenge and that the SCOTUS will stand for freedom.

    • Hey Brenda,

      Here’s the list of the 13 senators who opposed this bill. An interesting mix of Republicans and Democrats alike. Makes you wonder what the others weren’t getting.

      Cardin (D-MD)
      Coburn (R-OK)
      Crapo (R-ID)
      DeMint (R-SC)
      Durbin (D-IL)
      Franken (D-MN)
      Harkin (D-IA)
      Lee (R-UT)
      Merkley (D-OR)
      Paul (R-KY)
      Risch (R-ID)
      Sanders (I-VT)
      Wyden (D-OR)

      • Brenda says:

        Scott, thanks for the follow-up. Honestly, so happy to see Durbin on this list. Yes, what weren’t the others getting?!

  5. Bill Radford says:

    Just a thought – is it possible that you might be posting too often? You know I love conversing with you, but I am wondering if you might be risking over exposure.

    • Hi Bill,

      Tough to say. As I have never written a blog before, this is all new to me. What I do know is that the blogs that tend to grow the fastest are the blogs that post the most frequently and consistently. So, I’m aiming for about 5 posts per week. But we’ll see. Only time will tell.

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