Playing Both Sides, Winning Neither: Passage of the National Defense Authorization Act

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Jimmi Jay is a senior at the University of Illinois studying accounting, but interested in issues of economic, social, and political justice.In January, President Barack Obama signed into law the $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act. Obama took this move despite advice from key members of his administration, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. General intuition would lead one to believe that the Defense Secretary, the FBI director, and the Director of National Intelligence would be the last people in the White House to show concern over civil liberties, but even they thought the power authorized to the President under this act was far too great. He signed despite his own reservations regarding the provision within the act that would authorize the government to indefinitely detain United States citizens without trial; reservations which he initial said would lead him to veto the act. Many legal analysts argue that the provision to indefinitely detain US citizens suspected of terrorism  is unconstitutional.Though Obama signed, he did take the rare action of issueing a signing statement. He himself asserts that this provision, “would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation.” The President pledged that his “Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” but who is to say that he will not rescind this promise just as he did in not abiding by his threat to veto the entire act? Whether the Obama administration follows through on this promise or not, the issue has far-reaching implicaitons. There is no guarrantee that  any future President will abide by Obama’s choice. It would not be a wild conclusion to believe that provisions in this act could usher in an epoch characterized by the same paranoias and breaches of power seen inb the McCarthy era.This act also maintains existing transfer restrictions for detainees in Guantanamo Bay, even though many have been cleared for transfer. Of this, Obama said that where the restrictions “operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will interpret them to avoid the constitutional conflict.” This suggests that he may ignore the transfer restrictions, but they have been in place for a year without challenge, so this seems doubtful.The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act is another step in the long track record of the reduction in our civil liberties since September 11th. There was the Patriot Act passed in October 2001 by President George W. Bush reducing our privacy to nonexistence; the signed extensions to the Patriot Act by Obama in May 2011 allowing for search and seizure without probable cause; the executive authorized assassination of US born and educated cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, setting a new precedent on the power wielded by the President – far greater than that under President Bush. And now the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The passage of this act offers us a perfect microcosmic view of the flaws in Obama’s presidency. In his 2008 campaign, he preached reform and progress, but as it is apparent now, that was simply liberal rhetoric wielded masterfully to sway a marginalized and disillusioned American population.The passage of this act– revealing as it does our President’s failure to uphold promises, and the shortcomings of the United States political process to bring about any substantial change, should make you, as it as made me, truly indignant.

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