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"Indefinite detention": A Song In Search of a Barbershop Quartet or Two

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(Article changed on October 10, 2012 at 13:33)

"Indefinite detention": A Song In Search of a Barbershop Quartet or Two 

"If I had no sense of humor I would long ago have committed suicide."

--Mohandas Gandhi, 1928

You're in for an unusual treat, OpEdNews readers.    This article comes not only with song lyrics, but with an invitation to earn a green-colored sweetener.     $500 to $1000 in prizes might be yours (to donate to a good cause) if you can turn the song a couple of dozen paragraphs below from tuneless words on a page into a catchy video that will inspire joyously outraged Durkheimian choral ecstasy at protest venues all across the United States until the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act 2012 are retracted and apologized for [1] .   I am not kidding (not about the money anyway).  I have the money and will indeed distribute it to the winning videos.  If I were kidding, I would have offered $100,000,000, but $1000 I can swing.

NDAA 2012

First, a few words of introduction to the subject matter of the song: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The NDAA is a bill voted on yearly to authorize military appropriations and offer guidelines for the conduct of existing military operations.  The NDAA added two particularly vile sections in 2012: 1021 and 1022.  Section 1021 authorizes, for covered persons, "detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities", hostilities which, given our current open-ended cosmic battle against the abstract construct called "terror", can potentially go on until the earth crashes into the sun.   Section 1022 mandates that the armed forces of the U.S. hold "covered persons" in military custody, unless the president authorizes that they be detained under some other circumstances (whether more or less humane).  

Section 1021 also authorizes rendition of detainees to other countries, specifically "transfer to the custody or control of the person's country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity." These categories of location presumably include Guantanamo, Bagram/Parwan, CIA black sites, and the nations of our "allies" as well as other conditionally cooperative nations (like Sudan) who employ even more brutal methods of torture than the U.S. corporate government does. 

The people who can be detained indefinitely and transferred to torturing nations under section 1021 include not only those who appear (without trial or conviction) to be directly responsible for the September 11 attacks, but also anyone whom the government suspects "was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces."

The people who are mandated to military custody under section 1022 are those who are suspected both "to be a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda" and "to have participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners."

At first blush, the language of the bill makes it sound like the NDAA's atrocious human rights violations will only be inflicted on those suspected to be Very Bad Men--i.e. on the suspected members of al-Qaeda, affiliates of whom are known for destroying the Twin Towers and putting a big hole in the Pentagon as well as murdering 3,000 noncombatants; or on suspected members of the Taliban, who are known for viciously oppressing women, killing civilians, and blowing up Buddhist statues.  This optimistic view of who the victims of the NDAA will be grows less stable once it becomes clear that "al-Qaeda" is an arbitrarily-applied category marker used to describe a wide variety of terrorist and non-terrorist groups who often are not in communication with each other and are almost never in communication with Ayman Zawahiri or any of the other known figureheads of "al-Qaeda central".

Given that al-Qaeda exists only as a disparate swarm of groups united around a common set of ideas, this gives the state tremendous leeway to call anyone "al-Qaeda" if it is expedient and minimally plausible to do so.  As for the Taliban, they are more coordinated and they really do viciously oppress women, murder civilians and blow up Buddhist statues, but we have some terrible allies with equally bloody or bloodier hands (e.g. Saudi Arabia, and besides the Taliban did not fly planes into the Twin Towers, so why are we still fighting them more than a decade later under the banner of retaliation for the 9/11 attacks? This unexplained 11 year binge of "lesson-teaching" should be mysterious to all government-trusting individuals.

In addition to the definitional nebulousness of "al-Qaeda" and the national security irrelevance of the Taliban, certain phrases in sections 1021 and 1022 like "substantially supported" and "associated forces" are disturbingly vague, as, for that matter, are words like "attack", "hostilities" and "belligerent act."  In English, an "attack" can, of course, be a violent and morally inexcusable attack, e.g. one that murders civilians en masse (like drone attacks, Shock and Awe attacks, cluster bomb attacks, and the helicopter attacks on Reuters journalists and ambulance drivers documented by the Collateral Murder video leaked to Wikileaks).  Attacks can also be violent but morally less atrocious attacks, like the kind of violent attacks made in self defense when someone else is directly and violently attacking you without reasonable provocation.  Attacks, belligerencies and hostilities can also be of a nonviolent nature, like the kind that inspire angry corporations to buy themselves up a posse of politicians employed  to destroy the labor unions that "attacked" them with their demands for living wages, reasonable safety conditions, sane working hours, etc.

For instance, when Wisconsin governor Scott Walker tried to strip collective bargaining rights from the public sector unions of Wisconsin, a state with the earliest-established public sector unions in the country, those union members "attacked" him by "belligerently" occupying the Wisconsin statehouse and organizing a "hostile" recall effort that fell short of recalling him but did make him a lame duck governor.  Likewise, Occupy Wall Street has been "attacking" the so-called "job-creating" investment bankers and hedge fund managers of our nation with peaceful protests attended by thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of people.  These belligerent hostile attacks can be considered terroristic and substantially supportive of al-Qaeda if looked at through an Orwellian-enough lens backed up by laws that take fair trials out of the evaluation process by which people are judged to have engaged in terrorism.  And it is not reassuring that the new Black Ops video game for would-be recruits to the armed forces targets an Assange-like villain dubbed "the messiah of the 99%."

Of course Wisconsonites and Occupiers are mostly American citizens, so for my concerns above to be justified, there must be some evidence that the NDAA authorizes indefinite military detention of American citizens.  The NDAA is an atrocious bill even if it only applies to foreign nationals, because it is wrong to indefinitely detain without trial the human beings of any nation.  However, a rough way of testing the outer limits of a nation's potential for madness and brutality is by examining what that nation allows to befall (or inflicts upon) its own citizens.  Nations that do not employ the state to murder, assassinate or torture their own people, for instance, should, in theory, be less prolific at mass murdering and mass torturing the people of other nations also (holding constant the raw power capacity to get away with murdering and torturing people of other nations).

The Japanese Imperial army may have been such an imaginatively murderous menace to Asia before and during World War II in part because Japanese warriors had developed a national habit of dispatching the people of their own nation in horrendously agonizing ways--they were thus inflicting on Asia an exaggerated version of what they had grown accustomed to inflicting on their own.  With this example in mind, if the U.S. corporate-run government feels comfortable indefinitely detaining its own citizens in military custody under NDAA 2012, then the rest of the world should start building bunkers to hide in now.   

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Ian Hansen is an Associate Professor of psychology and the 2017 president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

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