FRONTLINE "Dreams of Obama"

White House Stands Up to Senate’s Vote for Indefinite Military Detention

Nov 30, 2011

The Senate voted in favor of indefinite military detention without a trial today, but Obama says he will veto. 

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Congress is fast-tracking a new Pentagon spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains a provision that would allow for indefinite military detention of anyone, anywhere in the world, suspected of having ties to terrorists, including U.S. citizens. Carl Levin (D – Michigan) and John McCain (R – Arizona) are the bipartisan campaigners for the 680-page bill, and they hope to stop many an evil-doer and freedom-hater by effectively making the military the police, jury and judge.

President Obama opposes the provision, and he is not alone. The Secretary of Defense, the head of the FBI, 26 retired generals and admirals, senior interrogators and counterterrorism officials from the Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations, and the Director of National Intelligence are on his side. This show of solidarity was prior to the Senate voting today that the provision be kept.

Indefinite military detention is neither a politically savvy idea nor one that would hold weight based on its own merits, which is why McCain and Levin stuck it into a tome that necessarily needs to be passed in some form for the Pentagon to stay open.

To illustrate this in a metaphor, it’s like a kid asking her parents “Can I have $20 for the movies,” then quickly, as if saying the alphabet in one second, whispering, “and chain my fucking sister to a pipe in the cellar?”

“We can and must deal with the Al Queda threat,” said Sen. Carl Levin, imploring a familiar argument. “The Supreme Court has ruled that citizens can be held.”

Levin is referring to Hamdi v. Rumsfield. In 2001, a man named Yaser Esam Hamdi was captured by Afghan military forces and brought to Americans. They sent him to Guantanamo Bay, then to Norfolk, Virginia, where it was discovered that Hamdi was, as he had claimed all along, an American citizen.

After his continued detainment a petition from Hamdi’s father was issued and eventually wound up on the desks of the Supreme Court in 2004. The Court ruled eight votes to one that it is unlawful to detain a suspect who is an American citizen without giving them access to a fair trial, lawyer, etc.

Fast-forward to 2011 and our infamously befuddled-cum-corrupt Congress is revisiting neoconservative policies about detention in the name of fighting Al-Qaeda.

“Despite strong opposition to the harmful detention legislation from virtually the entire national security leadership of the government, the Senate said…yes to indefinite detention without charge or trial,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU senior legislative counsel.

Protect IP and SOPA - bills that would fundamentally alter the internet’s structure by imposing stringent copyright policies, potentially shutting down any website that links to unoriginal content – are more threatening only because of their likelihood to pass. If this provision were to go through it would fundamentally alter the justice system.

His foreign policy is not perfect, but Obama is making the right move here. We should not chain our sisters to a pipe in the cellar, at least without a fair trial.

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