Obama Signs into Law Indefinite Detention of Americans without Trial

Tuesday, January 03, 2012
He waited until New Year’s Eve to do it…but he did it. While expressing “serious reservations” about the bill, President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve signed legislation that cements into law two highly controversial tenets of the war on terror: indefinite detention of terrorism suspects without charge, and the jailing of American citizens without trial. It also takes terrorism-related cases out of the hands of the FBI and the civilian court system and hands them over to the military.
Obama approved the bill (known as the National Defense Authorization Act), but at the same time, in a signing statement, claimed his administration would not allow the military to detain Americans indefinitely.
Civil libertarians were nonetheless outraged by Obama’s approval of the legislation. They claim that Obama is taking a “Trust me; I won’t do it” position. However, even if he does refrain from abusing the law, there is no guarantee that future presidents won’t imprison Americans and others indefinitely without trial or even without charge.
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.”
David Gespass, president of the National Lawyers Guild, called it an “enormous attack on the U.S. and our heritage” and a “significant step” towards fascism.
The use of indefinite detention began shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks when the George W. Bush administration shipped al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects and others to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Federal courts upheld the practice, agreeing with the Bush White House that the Authorization for Use of Military Force bill, passed by Congress only seven days after 9/11, allowed for the detentions to occur.
But Republican and Democratic lawmakers felt it was necessary to codify into federal law the power of the presidency to detain anyone—citizen and non-citizen alike—accused of plotting against the U.S. or providing support to those who have done so.
Obama’s supporters, including Republicans who normally oppose almost everything he does, have tried to defend the bill by saying that it doesn’t really go as far as its critics claim. However, the wording of the act, although carefully phrased, is nonetheless clear.
For example, Obama apologists say that it does not codify indefinite detention. But section 1021 (c-1) allows “Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of hostilities.” A U.S. president can take the position that he is engaged in a war without end. In fact, that is exactly what Presidents Bush and Obama have done. In addition, 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.” Because these terms are not defined, Obama would appear to be free to interpret them as he chooses…as would be any future president.
Supporters of the president—and the members of Congress of both parties who passed the bill—dismiss the contention that American citizens can be detained indefinitely. Again the wording is clever, but disturbing. Section 1022 (b-1) states that, in regard to U.S. citizens “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” The key word here is “requirement.” In other words, the president still has the option to place Americans in indefinite military detention.
Some Americans may say that terrorism suspects should be stopped using any means necessary, and that if a few innocent people are imprisoned without trial by mistake, it’s unfortunate, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. However, there is now nothing to stop the current president of the United States, or the next one or the one after that, from taking advantage of the wording of the law and the fear of enemies to imprison whomever he chooses.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
Three Myths about the Detention Bill (by Glenn Greenwald, Salon)
Defence Act Affirms Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens (by Matthew Cardinale, Inter Press Service)
Senate Bill Allows Indefinite Imprisonment of Americans without Trial (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
House Prepares to Give President Authority to Wage Worldwide War Forever (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Obama Approves Life Imprisonment without Trial for Guantánamo Prisoners (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Bye, Bye Bill of Rights (by David Wallechinsky, Huffington Post) 

See all 16 comments


Margaret DiRienzo 6 years ago
President Obama's "serious reservations" on this bill are wellfounded.H he's an attorney. It takes the "right to speedy trial" out of the question. It's a major step towards a military state. This was so under reported on the news. A travesty to Americans, his presidency, and a strong incentive to increase international animosity.
David Reamer 9 years ago
I am a very sick man but I will fight for my children freedom with my last breath.I do not talk on these comment pages but I feel compelled to state it unequivocally their freedom means everything to me and I know what I am willing to do an I suspect others will and can do even more. I will not surrender any guns I might have unless they are ripped from my yes you got it "cold dead hands".
Jerry Jackson 9 years ago
Can someone explain this to me in more detail? I thought the NDAA was all about the Defense budget for the next year.
Alta Williams 10 years ago
I am so sick of our president. He is a liar and does not believe in our constitution. Our air is being sprayed with chemicals, GMO's are in our foods. And we wonder why are children are sick and tumors and cancer are off the charts for the American people. He is trying to usher in Marshall Law. Why is there 800 concentration camps up and operational. I see a repeat of history happening here. The water has sodium flouride in it. That started at the Nazi camps to keep the Jews calm. Hey I really don't want rat posion in my water and I don't understand why we are being used as genny pigs. All the other nations have banned GMO's. It is called population controll and I am fed up with Obama. The chemicals that our children consume is a disgrace to our nation. The only thing I have seen Mrs. Obama do is jump rope on Dr. Oz and talk about her new hair style. They want to disarm us and start a new world order. If I am not telling the truth would someone please correct me. God help us and I pray someone steps up to the plate to impeach Obama. Now the drones to kill American people on our own soil with no due process. Heck he makes Hitler look good.
Rebecca 11 years ago
I cannot believe that this is where we are. Who would have thought that this would EVER happen? The President signed it on New Year's Eve? He has a sneaky way of sliding things in on days when he thinks no one is paying attention...and they weren't. So, I can now be detained for ANY reason with no JUSTIFICATION as long as I am considered WHAT? A threat to America? Well, in that case, the President should be the first one to go....INDEFINETLY! He is more dangerous than any person I know to this country!
Phil 11 years ago
@david: communist america? whoa there buddy. i think that's a little extreme. i doubt he thinks 9/11 is funny. it's not like he's laughing at everyone who died. not to say i agree with this bill. it's absolutely in breach of the constitution, and i've very disappointed in mr. obama for signing it.
Beth Bortner 11 years ago
obama! you hypocrite! you told us back in november that you were gonna veto this bill! you are such a liar! you are a disgrace to people and the principles you supposedly uphold in the constitution
David 11 years ago
no; it was not mc cain! mr. obama is so against the american people! now he’s ripping my belief under the catholic faith! mr. obama is destroying what my family fought for; the constitution, and to defend the american way of life! look on youtube; he denounces the pledge of allegiance, and he also almost flew the air force one into the buildings in new york city! i lost close friends in 9-11 and he thinks this is funny? shame on him! he wants’ a communist america!
mike b 11 years ago
i think it was mccain who drafted this anti-american legislation. he took an oath to defend the constitution of the us... he's certainly in breach of that. shoot him and his family throw his pets in guantanamo and deport his maid butler and driver ... war hero my ass he was there plotting against america watching his soldiers get tortured but couldnt leave cause he wasnt through helping the viet cong win the war.... hes a good example of what a coward and a terrorist are and the danger they both pose against america and those of us who wish to be called americans... if mccain is an american i would rather be a monkey!
YAHUSHUAHS helper 11 years ago
this is a terrible law that strips away all civil liberties of americans. it will be abused. i simply can't believe that that the senate passed this law and obama signed it. the government is out of control. everyone should watch their backs, because now the government can imprison you whenever they want for however long they want and torture you. they don't even have to have a reason or just cause. we need to elect people into office who don't want to rewrite the constitution and destroy america. barak obama signed it and mitt romney approves even of this. what a surprise that the media had little or no coverage about this. it was all kept a secret from us. way to go politicians! you should all be fired for allowing this.

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