President Obama will visit campus today to describe his fundamental vision of the future of our nation. If I was able to have him answer one question during his visit to Colorado it wouldn’t be about the economy, Iran or even why his administration is escalating the number of crackdowns on medical marijuana dispensaries—what’d those ailing stoners ever do to you?
Instead, my question is very straightforward: Mr. President, do you believe the executive branch should have the authority to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial?
When the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was first brought to the public’s attention, there were some murmurings of discontent with the fact that the language of the law was so ambiguous that it could possibly be applied to American citizens.
While the American public was assured the NDAA was only a reaffirmation of the authority granted under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), it was rumored that the president would possibly veto the act because of its ambiguous language.
When Sen. Carl Levin was speaking in the Senate on November 17 (viewable on CSPAN and YouTube), he asked “Is the senator familiar with the fact that it was the administration which asked us to remove the very language we had in the bill which passed the committee and that we removed it at the request of the administration —that would have said that this determination would not apply to US citizens and lawful residents?”
The language he is referring to specifically prevented the government from using these detaining provisions on American citizens. It was removed because it was argued that restrictions already exist to protect Americans, and that there is no need to restate them.
Why is the administration unwilling to reiterate provisions protecting American citizens when the NDAA’s provisions are said to only be a reaffirmation of AUMF powers? Is it too much to ask to clarify the limits of this restatement of executive power?
When Pres. Obama decided to sign—instead of vetoing—the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, he did so with great reluctance. As he inked the controversial bill, the President issued a signing statement that stated, “I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”
“Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war and all other applicable law.”
Thank you, Mr. President, for your benevolent interpretation of section 1021—but what assurance do you have that the next administration would be bound by this same interpretation?
I, for one, am hesitant to grant these same indefinite detention powers—which Obama’s signing statement admitted “would break with our most important traditions”—to the next Commander in Chief, who could very possibly be Rick Santorum or some sort of Nixon revival who might interpret the act much differently.
I am not the only one with qualms regarding the provisions of the NDAA. The L.A. Times reported that Katherine Forrest, a Manhattan federal court judge, ruled in May that the indefinite detention provisions signed by Obama under the NDAA failed to “pass constitutional muster” and ordered an injunction to keep any person from being persecuted with these new powers.
Judge Forrest ordered the injunction because she believed section 1021 could have chilling effects on First Amendment rights, as many of the journalists bringing the suit claimed that they have had plenty of contact with terrorist organizations while performing their job duties that could peg them for imprisonment under the new provisions.
On Monday, Aug. 6, prosecutors representing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and President Obama countered, filing a claim with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that argued the plaintiffs “cannot point to a single example of the military detaining anyone for engaging in conduct even remotely similar to the type of expressive activities they allege could lead to detention.”
Mr. President, why go through the trouble of having your top attorneys fight Judge Forrest’s injunction against the provisions allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial when your signing statement claimed your administration would never use these same powers?
If the NDAA is merely a reiteration of powers granted under the AUMF, then why did your administration lobby Congress (as Carl Levin claims) to remove language specifically barring the detention of American citizens because of the protection’s redundancy?
More importantly; President Obama, in your personal opinion, do you believe the executive branch should have the authority to indefinitely detain American citizens without trial?
Answer carefully, Mr. President, because your answer to this question has ramifications that will extend far beyond the election of 2012.
Editorial Editor Kevin Jensen is a senior English major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com