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Awlaki's is an interesting case in point. A Muslim whose moderating influence was sought after by the Washington Establishment in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, he became "radicalized" by our warring on his fellow Muslims. By noting that little-known fact, am I showing "support" for "al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces"? Will the U.S. military be obliged to target me, too?
"Not you, Grandpa," my grandchildren reassured me at Thanksgiving. "Even with the beard and the hat, you don't really look very much like Awlaki, or like any kind of terrorsymp. You look different; and your light skin and American citizenship should suffice to keep you safe."
I agreed that I would probably be okay, even if I kept up my vocal criticism of what is happening. But, truth be told, I harbored doubts even on Thanksgiving. And that was before the Senate version of the defense appropriation bill passed last Thursday.
Civis Americanus Sum. Yes, I am. But does that really count for much today? It certainly offered no protection to Awlaki, or to his son. What's to prevent one of my former colleagues at the military or the CIA -- those I have roundly criticized for endorsing and cheering on the kidnappers, torturers and assassins in their employ -- from adding me to the "kill-or-capture-but-preferably-kill list"?
What has been happening in this continuation of a seemingly endless "war on terror" -- amid widespread public indifference -- makes Richard Nixon's "Enemies List" look like a board game. At least, the Nixon White House had a modicum of good sense not to flaunt its skirting the law and violating constitutional rights.
It is a safe bet that functionaries at the National Security Council are updating the kill-or-capture list even now, confident that President Obama will sign the Senate version of the bill into law once it gets predictably endorsed by the Republican-controlled House.
Then, what is to prevent NSC "counter-terrorist" functionaries from summoning the go-to lawyers still ensconced in the Justice Department and asking them for help in navigating what appear to be deliberate ambiguities in the new bill's language.
Backed by a John Yoo-style "legal justification," an order could be issued to "terminate" me, while reassuring my neighbors that, yes, just as you suspected, he was a terrorsymp. Or maybe they'll simply order some troops from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, where I was stationed a half-century ago, to apprehend me and give me a free one-way ticket to Guantanamo.
After all, how bad could that be? Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in June 2005 that the detainees at Guantanamo were "living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want." And would Rumsfeld lie?
From my erstwhile colleagues at CIA, there has been more mumbo-jumbo aimed at disguising what is really afoot. According to press reports, the CIA general counsel has already said, disingenuously: "American citizens are not immune from being treated like an enemy if they take up arms against the United States."
But one does not need to "take up arms" in order to be labeled a "combatant," as the government is defining such terms. Awlaki didn't take up arms; he was said to have provided "material support to terrorism" by his alleged -- but unproven -- encouragement of terrorist attacks on the United States. (Under the new NDAA, a similar fate could befall someone who advocates resistance to "coalition partners," like NATO countries or some corrupt governments that are U.S. allies, such as the Karzai regime in Afghanistan or the terror-linked government of Pakistan).
In the broad strokes of defining American "partners" and al-Qaeda/Taliban "associated forces," will Israel fall into the first group and Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah get lumped into the second?
Could material support be nothing more than providing financial support for the U.S. Boat to Gaza, which challenged the Israeli embargo of Hamas-ruled Gaza? If creative lawyers for this or some future administration get busy, would the new NDAA provide authority for the military to detain such a U.S. citizen under the Law of War and transfer him or her to Guantanamo or elsewhere?
Conflicting legal interpretations of the bill are now more about whether military detentions would be mandatory or would the president still retain some discretion.
In sum, the wording appears to create a parallel military justice system that, theoretically, we are all subject to. All that would be needed is an allegation by someone that we assisted someone who in some way assisted someone else in some way. An actual terrorist act would not be needed -- and neither would a trial by one's peers as guaranteed by the Constitution to determine actual "guilt."