On December 31, when most U.S. citizens were distracted with New Year’s holiday plans, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. This law authorizes the President of the United States to order the U.S. military to arrest and imprison terrorism suspects indefinitely, including U.S. citizens, without charging them or putting them on trial. In other words, the president could now arbitrarily strip you of your right to due process.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the bill also contains provisions “making it difficult to transfer suspects out of military detention, which prompted FBI Director Robert Mueller to testify that it could jeopardize criminal investigations.”
Obama issued a signing statement expressing “serious reservations” regarding some of the provisions of the bill. But he signed it anyway. He did not veto it, as he could have done.
Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, summarized the danger that this new law presents: “The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.”
“We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court,” said Romero. “Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George [W.] Bush in the war on terror was extinguished [with the signing of this bill]. Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority. But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.”
Romero promised that the ACLU “will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.” I hope they are successful.
In the meantime, however, the new law can only do further damage to our reputation in the world—a reputation that Obama initially seemed to be repairing quite successfully.
And the world will now see that even Obama—a former constitutional law professor—cannot be trusted to uphold universal human rights standards and the rule of law.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.