Constitutional attorney, Glenn Greenwald, has done a comprehensive dissection of the Defense Authorization Act, a must-read article for all American citizens. While the bill, which passed in the Senate on Thursday, essentially codifies the status quo, that status quo, unbeknownst to most Americans, removes all protections under the law that the constitution has guaranteed to citizens since the nation's founding. The bill first requires that all accused terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military, not the civilian court system, allowing, though not mandating, the military to hold even U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil without trial in military prisons. Second, it renews the Authorization to Use Military Force against any person or nation that "substantially supports" terrorist groups, an ever-expanding list, and registers the "battlefield" as the entire world, including within the United States itself. Third, it restricts the president's ability to transfer detainees from Guantanamo prison.
Mr. Greenwald does a thorough job of explaining the bill in the abstract. But what does this mean for us ? Who is a terrorist supporter under this law? A Liberal journalist? Non-governmental organizations that provide food and shelter to the world's poor, regardless of the policies of their governments ? Here is an example: Oxfam provides grain and medical treatment to the poorest nations in Africa and the Middle East, including Palestine. So if the government of Gaza, now classified as a terrorist organization, benefits from Oxfam's generosity, does that make Oxfam a "substantial supporter" of terrorism? If I write a ten dollar check to Oxfam and one dollar is spent on the Palestinian people, am I a "substantial supporter" of terrorism? If Juan Cole or Noam Chomsky writes an article pointing out that the U.S. government's claims about Iran's nuclear program are essentially made- up fiction, can they be imprisoned for life for supporting a terrorist organization? The bill is so vague and without definition that it can be used to imprison anybody for anything. And anywhere. The scarier-still part is the "global battlefield" stipulation, which means that Glen Greenwald, who spends most of his time in Buenos Aires and Brazil, could be arrested at his home there by American troops. As Representative Jerrold Nadler said on MSNBC this morning, " To our shame, a majority of both parties in the Senate voted for a bill that permits an American citizen accused of being an ally of al qaeda to be jailed indefinitely without any evidence or a trial. This goes against every American tradition, every legal norm ...it's tyranny. "
For those of us contemplating expatriation, moving to New Zealand or Iceland or any other country where the United States has neither troops nor an oil interest will not insulate us from the threat of arrest by the U.S. military. As Mr. Greenwald points out, President Obama's threatened veto may be based not on a defense of the civil liberties of American citizens, but on the question of who gets to imprison us - the military or the police. Certainly expatriation offers some protection against a rising police state, since it is doubtful that a journalist would be pursued across borders. But it is no guarantee, as the assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his children, both by drone attacks in Yemen, attests. (al-Awlaki was an articulate Muslim cleric who spoke out against US attacks on Muslim populations. The White House claimed that al-Awlaki was involved in three Al Qaeda attacks, but Yemeni experts found no evidence at all to support those claims. Since he was assassinated without charges or trial, we will never know.)
What can we do as concerned citizens? The White House has a comment line, where operators register opinions. I suppose that over a million demands for rule of law might register, but there is certainly no guarantee. All but six Senators voted for this bill and voted against the amendments of Rand Paul, Dianne Feinstein and Mark Udall, which would have eliminated the unconstitutional provisions from the funding bill. So you could call the offices of your senators and read the riot act. The bill has passed and is now in conference, so it won't change anything, but it will let them know that in spite of the media blackout, the voters have been paying attention and are pissed off. You could ask the unions to carry placards demanding a return to rule of law and exclusion of American citizens from the provisions of this bill when they next rally or march. Beyond that, there is little we can do, other than massively expatriate to another country - one that has a constitution protecting the rights of its people.