Congress, Obama Codify Indefinite Detention
by Sheldon Richman
December 27, 2011
In yet another reversal of his professed commitment to the rule of law, President Obama says he will sign the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which formalizes his authority to imprison terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge or trial.
Where is the “progressive” outrage?
George W. Bush and Obama both claimed that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) empowered them to have the military hold people merely suspected of association with al-Qaeda or related organizations without charge for the duration of the “war on terror.” It didn’t matter if the suspect was a foreigner, a U.S. citizen, or a legal resident. It also didn’t matter if the alleged offense was committed inside or outside the United States. The battlefield encompassed the whole world.
In interpreting the AUMF this way, both administrations went well beyond its language. On its face, the AUMF only authorizes “the President … to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
Clearly the power is restricted to people involved in 9/11 and those who protected them. Yet under novel theories of the executive branch’s constitutional authority, this was turned into a virtual blank check.
The AUMF also makes no reference to indefinite detention or to turning citizens and legal residents over to the military, rather than civilian law enforcement, when they are merely suspected of being involved in a vague class of activities such as “supporting” “associated forces” in the commission of belligerent acts.