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Will Congress Finally Start to Clean Up the Mess It Made With the NDAA?

By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:16pm

Congress can learn some things from kids. One lesson that my spouse and I teach our 4-year-old and 9-year-old is that, if you do something wrong, you look the person in the eye, say you're sorry, and then clean up the mess. My kids do it, as do kids everywhere. Owning up to mistakes and cleaning up the mess is a hallmark of growing up.

Has Congress learned this lesson after its historic wrong of codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into American law? We will soon find out.

On Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. EST, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first hearing ever on the indefinite military detention provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Congress passed in December. This hearing will be Congress' first opportunity to own up to its mistakes and start to fix them. But the only way the NDAA will be fixed is if senators and House members hear from you and your family and friends that indefinite military detention authority is wrong, dangerous, and needs to be repealed.

As we've said before, the NDAA is dangerous because it authorizes this president and all future presidents to order the military to lock away civilians picked up far from any battlefield, in indefinite detention without charge or trial based on suspicion alone. It could permit any president to send the American military to imprison people anywhere in the world, even where there is no armed conflict and no threat to Americans.

Unbelievably, some members of Congress even rejected amendments clarifying that the NDAA military detention provisions do not apply inside the U.S.

Wednesday's hearing is a start to the NDAA clean-up, and will be chaired by one of the biggest heroes in the fight against the NDAA—Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Sen. Feinstein is holding the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in public, in contrast to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which wrote the NDAA last year in secret sessions without even a single hearing.

But there is lots more work to do. The hearing is your chance to tell Congress that Americans reject indefinite military detention without charge or trial, and expect Congress to fix the mess it's made. We'll be monitoring the hearing (and live-tweeting from it via @ACLULive). And if you're as outraged by the NDAA as we are, you should tune in, too. (It will be webcast on the Senate Judiciary Committee website and might be on C-Span as well.)

A handful of bills have already been introduced to try to fix parts of the NDAA. While they are all well-intentioned and sincere efforts to clean up the NDAA mess, none of them go far enough. That is why Congress needs to hear from the American people to ensure complete clean-up, and we will need your help in the coming months.

Urge your senators to show their commitment to making sure that Congress cleans up the mess, by having them make their three-part pledge on Wednesday to fix the NDAA and any other statutes to make sure that:

• No president should be given the power to send the military around the globe to imprison indefinitely civilians, based on suspicion alone, in places where there is no armed conflict. Locking people away indefinitely based solely on the say-so of the president is too much power to hand over to any one person.

• The United States itself should be off-limits for the military to impose indefinite detention without charge or trial. It would be unconstitutional for the president to apply the NDAA provisions here at home, but the Senate rejected explicit protections to reinforce the Constitution's and the Posse Comitatus Act's protections.

• No president should ever be REQUIRED to put civilians into military custody without charge or trial, as one provision of the NDAA would do.

Fulfilling this pledge will protect American values.

In the months ahead, we expect to see more congressional hearings on the NDAA detention provisions (we especially hope that the House Republican leadership will follow through on its promise to have hearings very soon in the House Judiciary and Armed Services Committees). By mid-May, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will start writing the NDAA for this year (yes, there is an NDAA every year) and members of those committees will have chances to fix last year's NDAA. But like last year, the Senate Armed Services Committee may very well shut its doors and come up with its new NDAA in secret. Regardless, by late May, the full House will vote on the NDAA for next year and the full Senate will vote on its version this summer. In other words, if Congress doesn't fix the 2012 NDAA soon, it can use the 2013 NDAA to clean up its mess.

Tens of thousands of you took action the first time around to let Congress know that you opposed the NDAA's indefinite military detention provisions. We need you to act now to ensure that Congress fixes the mess it made.

No president should be given the power to send the military around the globe to imprison people indefinitely, based on suspicion alone, in places where there is no armed conflict. The United States itself should be clearly off-limits to any use of the military to indefinitely detain civilians without charge or trial. No one should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA's detention authority. The NDAA's detention provisions must be repealed.

So, let your senators know that you'll be watching the hearing on Wednesday and that you except them to protect American values and clean up the mess the NDAA made. Once you've done that, check out our toolkit and resources on the NDAA to learn how you can use our model state and local bill to encourage your city council and/or local legislator to adopt in an effort to help clean up the NDAA mess in local communities.

We'll keep you posted on the NDAA debate; check back here for updates soon.

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