Fear unfounded: Civil liberties and the 2012 Defense Authorization Act

Thursday, January 12, 2012

If Congress passed a law for collegiate sporting events, stating that "air horns could under no circumstances be played or employed to produce sounds in or near collegiate sporting events, whether intercollegiate or intramural," we would conclude that NCAA football games would be safe from the earsplitting devices.

Anyone arguing, therefore, that this legislation was making it likely that air horns would be more common in stadiums would be met with questions about their ability to read legislation.

This is a useful comparison to unwarranted concerns about the National Defense Authorization Act, legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, allocating $670 billion to the Pentagon for this fiscal year.

The most disputed provisions of the NDAA concern authorizing the U.S. military to detain terrorism suspects.

A few members of Congress, including hyperlibertarians such as Democrat Jerome Nadler and Republican Ron Paul (who argued that Osama bin Laden should have been arrested instead of killed) argued that the legislation would lead to the indefinite detention of American citizens, without charge, by the U.S. military.

In fact, the NDAA not only does not empower the U.S. military to detain American citizens indefinitely, it specifically prohibits this.

The relevant passage under "Applicability to United States Citizens and Lawful Resident Aliens" states that: "The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States."

Many of the same opponents of this legislation also want to grant the same civil rights to al-Qaida terrorists as are enjoyed by U.S. citizens, including full access to U.S. courts, taxpayer-funded defense attorneys and the ability to use trials as platforms to preach violent jihad in the U.S. media.

For good reason, even the Obama administration, which had promised to try al-Qaida detainees in the United States, backed down from this once it realized the mockery that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other terrorists would have made of our legal system.

The NDAA confirms as U.S. law the practice that foreign terrorists such as these will be held indefinitely by the U.S. military. Indeed, this is a far more generous policy than allowed under international law.

While armed and uniformed combatants do deserve rights under the Geneva Conventions, terrorists do not. In fact, illegal armed combatants -- civilian German snipers, for example -- who fired at U.S. soldiers during World War II were routinely executed on the spot.

While the ACLU and Ron Paul may whine about the loss of liberty by terrorists and complain about nonexistent threats to our freedoms within a law that specifically prohibits these threats, even the Obama administration agreed that the NDAA would not result in indefinite detentions of U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

There continue to be American citizens who are misguided or evil enough to aid terrorism or even directly engage in these acts themselves. While perhaps they should be detained indefinitely alongside the terrorists with whom they share a hateful ideology, the NDAA does not authorize this.

American citizens, even those accused of betraying our nation and civilization, will continue to enjoy the same legal protections as before the legislation.

This is not to say that there are not threats to our liberties -- especially our economic ones -- emanating from this administration.

In the case of the NDAA, the threats are all against the foreign terrorists who are at the heart of global Islamic jihad. The more of them who are indefinitely detained at Guantnamo Bay, the safer the world will be.

Wayne H. Bowen is a professor and chairman of the Department of History at Southeast Missouri State University.

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