The Senate passed a war expenses appropriation bill on Thursday that appears to hold out the possibility that the military could be ordered to arrest and hold an American citizen anywhere in the world (including the US) without trial and indefinitely. Senator Lindsey Graham insisted that the move is necessary so that information can be extracted from just-arrested terrorism suspects without all that rigamarole about reading them their rights, etc.
There is no evidence that important and timely information has regularly been obtained by torture, so the whole premise of Graham’s position rests on facts not in evidence. If torture could defeat terrorism and insurgencies, the French would still be ruling Algeria. Moreover, there is no evidence that the US military is good at telling terrorists from non-terrorists. Many of those sent to Guantanamo were found to have been sold by the Taliban (a few Iraqi Shiites who had fled to Afghanistan to escape Saddam ended up at Guantanamo, even though the Taliban and al-Qaeda kill Shiites on sight).
Language was added to the bill at the last minute specifying that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” But the language also says that the military can arrest US citizens anywhere, including the US. Promises that a provision against terrorism would be somehow limited and would not be used in criminal and other cases have been made before and usually violated. Moreover, since many (but by no means all) of our politicians are apparently a bit unbalanced (something about high office must attract a disproportionate number of people with too much of one chemical and not enough of another), you can’t tell which president will get to order the troops into action and why.
This militarization of police duties in the name of counter-terrorism is a dire threat to the rule of law in the United States, and clearly unconstitutional.
The aspiration in the Senate bill is not new. The Bush administration allegedly seriously considered sending the military to arrest the Lackawanna Five, Yemeni-Americans accused of having attended al-Qaeda training sessions in Afghanistan. That move, like the current National Defense Authorization Act, would violate the 1878 Posse Comitatus law, which forbids the use of troops for domestic law enforcement when civilian organs of state are available for this purpose.
We have seen with the misnamed PATRIOT Act, moreover, that once law enforcement has tools on the books, it typically does not stop at terrorism. The PATRIOT Act’s unconstitutional provision for warrantless wiretapping allowed the FBI to bust strip club owners in Las Vegas for bribing city council members, even though the bureau did not have the kind of evidence for wrong-doing that would have been needed to obtain a warrant. This was terrorism?
The point is that if you let the US military arrest Americans for terrorism, you probably are letting them arrest Americans for anything. Bradley Manning has been formally charged with aiding the enemy by releasing low-level State Department cables to Wikileaks. If you reposted one of those cables on the web or Facebook, is that treason? Could the military come after you for it? Would you also be in the brig and tortured via sleep deprivation, and in danger of being executed? (By the way, former vice president and unindicted felon Richard Bruce Cheney revealed to Iran and everyone else that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA operative working to counter nuclear proliferation in Iran. That’s not “aiding the enemy”? But releasing some inconsequential cables is?)
Or what about civil disobedience tactics such as those on many of today’s college campuses and city squares, on the part of Occupy Wall Street? Couldn’t mayors just call in the military if these activities were construed as “terrorism”?
The ACLU explains that the current language of the amendment is frightening.
Since our Congress is now almost completely bought and paid for, it has been pushing weird acts that only benefit authoritarian politicians and some billionaire corporations recently, and which are wholly injurious to American liberties. Destruction of internet liberty is another cause apparently dear to the hearts of our plutocrats.