The U.S. Senate recently passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a U.S. federal law that specifies the Department of Defense’s budget and expenditures. The bill, passed in a 93-7 vote, includes a significant new provision: Anyone who the U.S. federal government considers to be a member of al-Qaida or any associated force can be held in military custody indefinitely and without trial “until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
Interestingly, the bill extends not just to foreigners or criminals captured overseas but to U.S. citizens as well. That is, possibly you and me. Despite the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to the right of a trial, U.S. citizens can be held indefinitely until the perceived threat of terror has ended. The new policy would circumvent the existing structure for due process, that is, the FBI, federal prosecutors and federal courts. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, “The homeland is part of the battlefield” — a reason which, for the Senate, seems to justify these bold moves.
Citizens have called for the Senate to amend the bill to change this drastic new provision. They have also called for President Obama to veto the bill, in accordance with his initial military detention platform. Indeed, according to the Associated Press, “President Barack Obama and his national security team are appealing to lawmakers for last-minute changes to a sweeping defense bill.” So what is the problem?
The first is that many of us here at Princeton remain unaware or uninterested in the subject. I have talked to too many people who had no idea that any of this was happening, or who brushed it off as a general piece of news. At risk of making the trite argument, the Orange Bubble has truly manifested itself in regards to this issue.
Even if we believe that the bill does not affect us personally (which it could), we cannot allow these perpetrations to continue. Already, we allow citizens to be monitored under the Patriot Act. Already we allow torture to take place in secret prisons. Already, we have allowed military law to carry on outside of due process, and now we are allowing it to extend to our own fellow citizens.
Author Naomi Wolf claims, “at a time when our system of government is under assault from an administration that ignores traditional checks and balances, engages in illegal wiretapping and writes secret laws on torture, it means that we’re facing an unprecedented crisis.” She goes on to say, “at this moment of threat to the system the Framers set in place, a third of young Americans don’t really understand what they were up to.” Are we to be those young Americans who do not understand these internal threats to our constitutional framework? Are we to be those young Americans who simply do not care? Our apathetic tendencies are certainly undeniable.
As students, we are the very people who should care more about something like this. We are the very people who should be involved and interested in our political future as a democracy. Silence is what is allowing these things to happen and to continue happening. There are those who cannot help but be silent, who do not know any better. But as Princeton students, we should know better. We should be able to see the trends in history perpetuating into our present.
And the issue is far from being truly resolved. Many seem to be complacent with the prescribed solution, that President Obama will veto the bill if it remains as is. But the executive branch already has the power to do what the Senate is proposing, just with a little less paperwork. The White House has threatened to veto the bill because it wants to maintain its “flexibility in terms of how we detain [individuals], question them, prosecute them,” according to chief counterterrorism adviser William Brennan. Does such unrestricted power not worry us?
It is one thing to suffer at the hands of an enemy, even one as seemingly intangible as terrorism. It is another thing entirely to suffer from — as Ret. Adm. John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, told the Huffington Post — a “self-inflicted wound.”
Kinnari Shah is a sophomore from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.