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Indefinite Detention of All Americans is Not Going to Happen, Despite the NDAA

I just want to make one fact perfectly clear. I am a civil libertarian. I believe quite firmly that the Federal Government does not have a place in regulating my personal life, behavior or activities (within reason).

The government has no right to infringe upon anything listed in the Bill of Rights. They are not permitted to tell me what I can or cannot say (within reason). They are not permitted to tell me what religion I should be (if any). They are not permitted to hold me for an indefinite amount of time without a fair, public and speedy trial for no reason at all.


I am against the provision National Defense Authorization Act that permits the government to detain American citizens indefinitely.

I am also a skeptical thinker; I spend a lot of time speculating about things like this, and what their ramifications would be if they actually happened the way people say they will happen.

Because of this, I believe that even though the injunction against the NDAA was stayed by an appellate court judge yesterday, it is still not something to throw our hands up in despair over.

The idea of the government using this to arrest everyone is actually never going to happen, simply because it is unenforceable. For a couple reasons:

1) It is Really Vague

The contested provision in the NDAA permits the government to indefinitely detain anyone who “who ‘substantially supported’ al-Qaida, the Taliban or ‘associated forces’”, which is so vague that some believe that the government will use this provision to imprison everyone who disagrees with it.

Given that there are whole lot of people out there who disagree with government actions regardless of what it is doing, there will be a whole lot of people that need to be arrested.

And what counts as “substantial support”? Journalists are notably left out of the language in the bill, so does that mean that journalists are now providing support to the enemies of the US?

What about bloggers? Or YouTube videos? Or Facebook posts? What about peace protesters? Who exactly is included in here?


So far the administration is unwilling to say, which either means that they are including everyone, or they are not planning on enforcing the NDAA.

2) Indefinitely Detaining people is Logistically Impossible

Here’s the thing, imprisoning people takes a whole lot more than simply holding them in a cell. These people have to be fed, clothed, and sheltered from violent inmates. The US already has a chronically overpopulated prison system, and the influx of these new dissidents will severely strain an already overstretched system.

Even if more prisons are built, we are still talking about hundreds of thousands of potential inmates. This has the detrimental effect of A) increasing the amount of money needed for prison upkeep and B) decreasing the number of taxpayers that can pay to support said prisons.

Either way, indefinitely detaining Americans will be a huge drain on the country. They just do not have the room or the money to imprison everyone.

3) Remember: It is still in the Courts

There are three steps in the life of a court case. It is first brought to the district courts, then sent to the appellate court on appeal, and then it heads up to the Supreme Court. So far, the NDAA has only gone through two courts, and the decision to uphold the law has been appealed.

Given the blatant unconstitutionality of the law (which is not hyperbole, it breaks the first and fifth Amendments), the Supreme Court is not likely to ignore this case. This means that there is still a chance that it can be struck down.

In the unlikely event that the Supreme Court upholds the NDAA, there is still the problem of logistics and legal vagueness to overcome.

Which is why I am not wailing that freedom has died and the US is now some sort of Big Brother-1984 style government. Instead, I am going to keep an eye on the issue until it comes to its end.

I do not believe that the NDAA will pass the constitutional hurdle in the Supreme Court. I also do not believe that the government will attempt to imprison every American Citizen indefinitely for the reasons I have stated above.

Let’s all calm down and see how this plays out. Save your outrage, because you may need it later.

Editorial Assistant Caleb Hendrich is a senior political science and journalism double major. His columns appear Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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