The National Defense Authorization Act

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law last December by President Barack Obama, has a new provision which punishes the Palestinian Authority and discourages Palestine from seeking protection against Israel through the United Nations. Palestine, which has won non-member observer status in the UN, will see its foreign aid cut if it tries to prosecute Israel for war crimes in the International Criminal Court, according to Amendment #3209. These cuts will significantly limit the amount of critical aid Palestinians need in order to survive in the face of illegal Israeli blockades on food, building materials and medicine, among other provisions. Introduced by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the arbitrary amendment would make Palestine’s new status in the UN worthless without the capability to affect the ICC. Israel has already announced that it will build 3,000 new illegal settlements on Palestinian land in retaliation to Palestine’s winning bid. The amendment also calls for the closure of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) office in WashingtonDC unless Palestinians cooperate with Israeli aggression.

NDAA

Furthermore, the NDAA harbors a controversial indefinite detention provision, which gives President Obama unchecked powers. Under this specific part of the act, any individual suspected of aiding, financing or planning terrorist activities can be arrested and detained indefinitely without charge or trial. The US military was, with the express authority of the President, able to keep even US citizens in prison on the basis of suspicion. This amendment is left purposefully vague, making it possible for future administrations to implement it in a harsher way. This frightening part of the act has been justified by senators like Graham on the basis that the United States must “win the war” on terror, even if it comes at the cost of sacrificing civil liberties and freedoms.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently introduced an amendment which seems to give US citizens protection against indefinite detention. The amendment reads, “An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.” However, this amendment can be easily misinterpreted or misconstrued. The US military can still detain individuals who are not US citizens but reside in the US. Also, a future administration can interpret the amendment in a way which makes it possible to give hasty trials to suspects, charge said suspects, and still result in indefinite detention. Moreover, the Feinstein amendment might not have much say in court whatsoever, considering that the President still has the power “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks [of] September 11, 2001, or…to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons,” according to the joint resolution titled Authorization for Use of Military Force. This resolution was passed soon after 9/11 by then-President Bush and still has relevance in the Supreme Court.

But the question which comes to the forefront and is most problematic is this: Who is a suspect? If a person chooses to donate money to a non-profit organization which then sends the donation overseas to help victims of a natural disaster in another nation, and said money ends up in the hands of a political party or government organization which is seen as a threat to the national security of the United States, that person can be considered a suspect. If the US government deems necessary, it can charge them with “aiding a terrorist organization”, even though they were not sending money overseas for terrorist activity. The US military can charge them with treason, send them to prison and keep them there for as long as “hostilities persist”. In other words, the never-ending war on terror, which has nothing to do with why that person sent money, can have a direct effect on their life and the lives of their friends and family, who might never see them again. The President is also authorized to use video and audio surveillance to monitor that “suspect’s” family, listen in on their phone conversations, and read their e-mails. Information collected from such surveillance can be used as evidence of the person’s guilt in court. Such a trial blurs the line between lawful and unlawful conduct by the US military.

While protecting the United States from threats to its national security is of paramount importance, so is the protection of Americans’ civil liberties and freedoms. The NDAA not only makes it easier to forego those liberties and freedoms, it enables the President and the military to exercise unchecked powers over civilians. It promotes fear and mistrust of our government’s policies and agendas, creating a divide between figures of authority and the general public. As Americans, we should urge the government to void the amendments regarding Palestine and indefinite detention. Take action by contacting Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and urging them to oppose said amendments of the NDAA.

Senator Richard J. Durbin
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Tel: 202-224-2152
Web contact form: www.durbin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact

Senator Mark Kirk
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
Tel: 202-224-2854
Web contact form: www.kirk.senate.gov/?p=contact

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