Editorial: An affront to civil liberties

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 has passed, much to the anger of those who found out about it while it was working its way through Congress. For those who don’t know, the big commotion over this bill sprouted from a provision, now known as Section 1031, which authorized the indefinite detainment of U.S. citizens, without trial, if they are suspected terrorists or part of an associated group. But is it really too late for anything to change, or are we throwing in the towel too early?

Answering either of those questions first raises another: how did a bill like this even pass in the so-called land of the free? For the most part, there are several reasons why the bill passed as easily as it did. With all of the attention the Stop Online Privacy Act has been getting lately, it was very easy to draw attention away from the NDAA and Section 1031, although many suspect there was an intentional media blackout as well. Most who even knew about it didn’t find out until it had already gone through the Senate, and many reported common networking websites having problems when it came to NDAA. For example, a few days after Senate passed the bill 93-7, Twitter users reported that searching #NDAA crashed Twitter, while usual searches worked as per normal, implying it was not the website itself.

In addition to citizens not reacting as widely as they could have, most of the Senate and House signed onto it on the grounds that it was part of a bigger bill, which authorized $600 billion in defense spending – and most of the politicians in power, both Democrat and Republican, at the moment want the U.S. to look strong on defense.

And of course, the part that enticed Congress to sign it and scared citizens at the thought of it was the actual use of the provision in everyday jurisdiction. The actual wording of Section 1031 can also be broadly interpreted; many citizens are concerned that a certain economic boycott could be seen as a threat to the way the country is run. And this is more than just speculation; the Department of Defense considers protesting to be a form of “low level terrorism.”

With all of these factors in front of us, many should be disgusted with how this was handled (as if justifying the indefinite detainment and torture of anyone wasn’t disgusting enough). But this is precisely why it is never too late, nor is it ever too pointless, for the U.S. citizens to fight back. We chose generations ago to be a government by the people and for the people and we must never forget that we are the people. When bills are passed that call for more control, it is because they fear citizens and their potential to riot against cruelty and hypocrisy. We live in fear of the government because they live in fear of us. Without us, what would they govern?

And it is never too late to overturn such a bill give our democratic system some credit in all of this. All Section 1031 really needs is to be challenged in a legal setting; the Supreme Court, our third branch of government, could shut this down and deem it unconstitutional even after the Legislative branch has propagated this, and even after the Executive branch has caved to pressure and pulled back his threats. And of course, there is always the voice of the people.

Granted, we are not advocating setting fire to the streets or any other sort of violent protest. But there are other ways to fight this; you’d be surprised, for example how far a letter to your local senators could go. Sure, one letter would be negligible, but many would start to make them think about the votes at stake. That, and organizations like the ACLU will be there should you ever feel called to challenge the legal system.

As Alexander Hamilton once wrote, “The practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.” May we never take something as unconstitutional as indefinite detainment without trial lying down not for our fellow citizens, and not for anyone. May we never be too scared to assert ourselves as the land of the free.

CHALKEY HORENSTEIN

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