What Does Obama's Defense Bill Mean?
In a blog entry at Mother Jones, Adam Serwer tackles the National Defense Authorization Act, which President Barack Obama signed on New Year's Eve. He says that Americans need to understand that among other things, the new law affects the detention of natural-born citizens suspected of terrorism, not just anonymous foreigners.
Obama released a signing statement that pledged to avoid, disregard, and in some cases grudgingly accept new restrictions imposed by Congress.
Detention of American citizens. This was the most controversial section, of the bill, and the most misreported. A Senate compromise amendment to the bill leaves open the question of whether the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks authorizes the president to detain American citizens suspected of terrorism who are captured on American soil. This matter may never be settled, as the risk of getting smacked down by the courts may dissuade presidents with even more expansive views of executive power than Obama from ever trying it.
In his statement, Obama says he wants "to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens." He continues: "Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation." Note what the president does not say: that indefinitely detaining an American suspected of terrorism would be unconstitutional or illegal. Obama's signing statement seems to suggest he already believe he has the authority to indefinitely detain Americans—he just never intends to use it. (In the context of hot battlefields the courts have confirmed he does indeed have that power.) Left unsaid, perhaps deliberately, is the distinction that has dominated the debate over the defense bill: the difference between detaining an American captured domestically or abroad. This is why ACLU Director Anthony Romero released a statement shortly after Obama's arguing the authority in the defense bill could "be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield."
Read Adam Serwer's entire blog entry at Mother Jones.