S 1867

Maybe you spent the last weekend shopping for gifts, writing out holiday cards or studying for final exams. For most of America, the end of the year is a busy time. In Congress, this is a season usually spent trying to jam through bad bills while they hope no one is looking.


In early December, the Senate voted  to pass S 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would authorize the president to send the military almost anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial—based on suspicion alone. The power is so sweeping that the president would be able to direct the military to use its powers within the United States itself, and even lock up American citizens without charge or trial.


No corner of the world, not even your own home, would be off-limits to the military. And there is no exception for American citizens. Section 1031—one of the indefinite detention provisions—of the Senate-approved version of the NDAA has no limitations based on geography, duration or citizenship. And the entire Senate bill was drafted in secret, with no hearing, and with committee votes behind closed doors.


I’m not sure which was more surprising—that the majority of senators ignored the pleas of countless constituents, or that they also ignored every top national security official opposed to the provisions, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, White House Advisor for Counterterrorism John Brennan, and DOJ National Security Division head Lisa Monaco. The Senate ignored them all.


Back in May, the House of Representatives passed its own version of the NDAA, which had a provision authorizing war wherever any terrorism suspect resides, even if there is no threat to the U.S. Buried in the bill is a sentence that lets the president order the military to lock up without charge or trial U.S. citizens and anyone else he decides is a suspect, even if the person is in the U.S. or in such friendly countries as Canada, Great Britain, or France.


The two bills are now in conference committee. The chairpeople and ranking members of the Armed Services Committee—known as “the Big Four”—have had one secret meeting after another to quickly write a final bill. Who are the Big Four? From the Senate, it is Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), who had secretly written the Senate indefinite detention provisions. The third member is the House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-CA), who is the person who wrote the House indefinite detention provisions. And the fourth member is the House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA), who fought the indefinite detention provisions on the House floor.


That’s three to one for indefinite military imprisonment without charge or trial. There’s good reason to worry about what the Big Four do in their secret meetings. 


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.