NDAA Dangers Still Loom

In December, BBA President Lisa Goodheart urged President Obama to veto the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA) because it was a radical departure from the rule of law established in the United States.  In particular, the detention principles in the bill pose serious threats to fundamental constitutional principles protecting individual civil rights and civil liberties.  Ultimately, President Obama signed the NDAA into law stating “I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”  In a recent panel on the NDAA at the BBA, one expert described the bill as “the most alarming new law never heard of by most Americans.”  Here’s why.

Sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA allow for the indefinite detention of terror suspects – including American citizens arrested domestically – without a trial or charge.  The authority granted to the federal government by Sections 1021 and 1022 is clearly contrary to the principles of access to justice and civil rights that has served our country from its founding.  It also authorizes the military to make such detentions, holding U.S. citizens in military custody or prosecuting them in military tribunals.  This circumvents the U.S. Justice Department and avoids the federal court system which has successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorism-related cases – including several here in Massachusetts.

Another troubling part of the bill is Section 1028.  This Section places undue roadblocks in the way for Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared of wrongdoing and are trying to be transferred to foreign countries willing to accept them.  There are more than 170 men left in Guantanamo Bay – 89 have been cleared of wrongdoing and could be transferred immediately.  Section 1028 requires certain additional certifications and compliance in the use of funds to transfer detainees that only prolong the unjust detention of individuals found innocent of alleged crimes against the United States.

So where are we now?  The NDAA went into effect on March 1st.  In late February, President Obama issued Presidential Policy Directive 14 which sets out procedures for implementing Section 1022 of the NDAA.  Directive 14 contains a broad set of waivers that could be understood to mitigate the controversial Executive powers granted by the NDAA.   However, it is not a permanent solution.  Just because this President vows to not abuse the powers vested in the Executive by the NDAA, it does not eliminate the possibility of the next President – be it next January or 4 years from now – interpreting the NDAA differently.

The NDAA threatens our American ideals of civil rights.  Every time our rights are changed, our enemies win another victory.  Although the President has expressed his discomfort with the NDAA and issued Directive 14, this affront on our adherence to the rule of law is unacceptable and must be reversed.

- Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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