The Senate is once again debating the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and is within a day or two of voting yet again on the issue of indefinite detention without charge or trial in the United States itself.
Last year, Congress passed the NDAA and made permanent very broad authority for the military to throw civilians into prison without charge or trial. While military detention without charge or trial is illegal in the United States, some key senators urged that even American citizens and others picked up in the United States could be detained under NDAA.
They did not succeed. The NDAA that was signed into law on New Year’s Eve last year was bad enough, but it did not authorize military detention within the United States. Some in Congress now want to have a second crack at it-some to make it better and some to make it worse.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has introduced an amendment that superficially looks like it could help, but in fact, would cause harm. Feinstein was a forceful leader last year against the NDAA detention provisions and believes that she is doing the right thing this year. But the problem is that the actual text of her amendment is bad.
It might look like a fix, but it breaks things further. Feinstein’s amendment says that American citizens and green-card holders in the United States cannot be put into indefinite detention in a military prison, but carves out everyone else in the United States.
There are three problems with her amendment:
- It would NOT make America off-limits to the military being used to imprison civilians without charge or trial. That’s because its focus on protections for citizens and green-card holders implies that non-citizens could be militarily detained. The goal should be to prohibit domestic use of the military entirely. That’s the protection provided to everyone in the United States by the Posse Comitatus Act. That principle would be broken if the military can find an opening to operate against civilians here at home, maybe under the guise of going after non-citizens. This is truly an instance where, when some lose their rights, all lose rights — even those who look like they are being protected.
- It is inconsistent with the Constitution, which makes clear that basic due process rights apply to everyone in the United States. No group of immigrants should be denied the most basic due process right of all — the right to be charged and tried before being imprisoned.
- It would set some dangerous precedents for Congress: that the military may have a role in America itself, that indefinite detention without charge or trial can be contemplated in the United States, and that some immigrants can be easily carved out of the most basic due process protections.
The executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League just wrote to Congress:
The [Feinstein] amendment is of particular concern to the Japanese American Citizens League because of our historic concern stemming from the Japanese American incarceration experience during World War II. Nearly half of the internees were not United States citizens, and would not have been protected by this amendment. In consideration of due process and the rule of law within the United States, we urge you to oppose the Feinstein amendment, unless revised to protect all persons in the United States from indefinite detention without charge or trial.
There are good ways and bad ways to amend the NDAA. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) has introduced two amendments that would change the NDAA in good ways. But Sen. Feinstein, despite good intentions, has introduced a harmful amendment.
There is still time to stop it. Call your senators now and say “Vote NO” on the Feinstein amendment, unless it is fixed to make the entire United States off-limits to indefinite detention without charge or trial by the military. The congressional switchboard number is 202-225-3121. This amendment goes to the very heart of who we are.
And here is a letter from a coalition of organizations urging a NO vote: