19 October 2011

Legal Problems with US Defense Authorization Bill

The Senate's bill would strip away fundamental Constitutional rights, and put the military squarely in the law enforcement arena.

Section 1031 of the act permits indefinite military detention of American citizens, without charge or trial, if those citizens are accused of supporting or being members of or supporting an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

While this sounds like something from George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," it is exactly what the act would permit. If American citizens are arrested, even on U.S. soil, and accused of aiding al-Qaeda, they could be held in military confinement. Indefinitely. They need not be charged or tried.

Another provision (Section 1032 of the act) puts the entire burden of holding and trying non-U.S. citizens who commit or plan acts of terror on behalf of al-Qaeda on the U.S. military. These detainees may not be turned over to civilian authority for trial, unless an unlikely series of political events leads to their transfer to civilian jurisdiction.

The consequence of this, according to the retired military officers, is to alter the purpose of the U.S. military and to undermine American values. As they put it in a letter to the Senate majority leader,

"If passed, we believe these provisions would reshape our counterterrorism policies in ways that would undermine our national security and transform our armed forces into judge, jury and jailor for foreign terrorism suspects. The military's mission is to prosecute wars, not terrorists. ... It [the bill] would also authorize the indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects, including American citizens captured on U.S. soil - a policy that is contrary to the very American values needed to win this fight."

This is a bad, bad, baaaaaaad idea. But if anyone votes against it because of the legal problems in it, they'll get accused of not supporting the troops. Politics sucks. Strike that - re-election campaign politics sucks.

By: Brant

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