The US is sleepwalking into becoming a police state, where, like a pre-Magna Carta monarch, the president can lock up anyone
By Naomi Wolf / guardian.co.uk / Published on Feb. 29, 2012
Yes, the worst things you may have heard about the National Defense Authorization Act, which has formally ended 254 years of democracy in the United States of America, and driven a stake through the heart of the bill of rights, are all really true. The act passed with large margins in both the House and the Senate on the last day of last year – even as tens of thousands of Americans were frantically begging their representatives to secure Americans’ habeas corpus rights in the final version.
It does indeed – contrary to the many flatout-false form letters I have seen that both senators and representatives sent to their constituents, misleading them about the fact that the NDAA destroys their due process rights. Under the act, anyone can be described as a ‘belligerent”. As the New American website puts it,
“[S]ubsequent clauses (Section 1022, for example) unlawfully give the president the absolute and unquestionable authority to deploy the armed forces of the United States to apprehend and to indefinitely detain those suspected of threatening the security of the ‘homeland’. In the language of this legislation, these people are called ‘covered persons’.
“The universe of potential ‘covered persons’ includes every citizen of the United States of America. Any American could one day find himself or herself branded a ‘belligerent’ and thus subject to the complete confiscation of his or her constitutional civil liberties and nearly never-ending incarceration in a military prison.”
And with a new bill now being introduced to make it a crime to protest in a way that disrupts any government process – or to get close to anyone with secret service protection – the push to legally lock down the United Police States is in full force.
Overstated? Let’s be clear: the NDAA grants the president the power to kidnap any American anywhere in the United States and hold him or her in prison forever without trial. The president’s own signing statement, incredibly, confirmed that he had that power. As I have been warning since 2006: there is not a country on the planet that you can name that has ever set in place a system of torture, and of detention without trial, for an “other”, supposedly external threat that did not end up using it pretty quickly on its own citizens.
And Guantánamo has indeed come home: Guantánamo is in our front yards now and our workplaces; it did not even take much more than half a decade. On 1 March, the NDAA will go into effect – if a judicial hearing scheduled for this week does not block it – and no one in America, no US citizen, will be safe from being detained indefinitely – in effect, “disappeared.”.
As former Reagan official, now Ron Paul supporter, Bruce Fein points out, on 1 March, we won’t just lose the bill of rights; we will lose due process altogether. We will be back at the place where we were, in terms of legal tradition, before the signing of the Magna Carta – when kings could throw people in prison at will, to rot there forever. If we had cared more about what was being done to brown people with Muslim names on a Cuban coastline, and raised our voices louder against their having been held without charge for years, or against their being tried in kangaroo courts called military tribunals, we might now be safer now from a new law mandating for us also the threat of abduction and fear of perpetual incarceration.
We didn’t care, or we didn’t care enough – and here we are. We acclimated, we got distracted, the Oscars were coming up … but the fake “battlefield” was brought home to us, now real enough. Though it is not “we” versus Muslims in this conflict; it is our very own government versus “us”. As one of my Facebook community members remarked bitterly, of our House representatives, our Senate leaders and our president, “They hate our freedoms.”
The NDAA is, in the words of Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, “the worst threat to civil liberties since COINTELPRO. It gives the government the power to presume guilt rather than innocence, and indefinitely imprison anyone accused of a ‘belligerent act’ or terror-related offense without trial.” He points out that it gives future presidents the power to arrest their political critics. That may even be understating things: it is actually, in my view, the worst threat to civil liberty in the US since habeas corpus was last suspended, during the American civil war.
On a conference call for media last Friday, hosted by the cross-partisan BORDC (which now includes the 40,000 members of the American Freedom Campaign, which we had co-founded as a response to the warning in 2007 that America was facing a “fascist shift”) and the right-leaning Tenth Amendment Foundation, we were all speaking the same language of fear for our freedom, even though our perspectives spanned the political spectrum. As the Tenth Amendment Foundation put it, we are a family with diverse views – and families know when it is time to put aside their differences. If there were ever a time to do so, it is now.
This grassroots effort is pushing hard in many places. Protests that included libertarians, progressives, Tea Party members and Occupy participants have been held nationwide in recent weeks. State legislators in Virginia, Tennessee, and Washington have also introduced bills to prevent state agencies from aiding in any detention operations that might be authorized by the NDAA. In other words, they are educating sheriffs and police to refuse to comply with the NDAA’s orders. This presents an Orwellian or 1776-type scenario, depending upon your point of view, in which the federal government, or even the president, might issue orders to detain US citizens – which local sheriffs and police would be legally bound to resist.
What will happen next? I wrote recently that the US is experiencing something like a civil war, with only one side at this point – the corporatist side – aggressing. This grassroots, local-leader movement represents a defensive strategy in what is being now tacitly recognized as unprovoked aggression against an entire nation, and an entire people. (Here I should say, mindful of the warning issued to me by NYPD, which arrested me, to avoid saying anything that could be construed as “incitement to riot” and that I believe in nonviolent resistance.)
The local resistance to the police state goes further: midwestern cities, such as Chicago and Minneapolis, are considering “torture-free city” resolutions that would prohibit the torture which civil libertarians see as likely under a military detention regime expanded by the NDAA. (Bradley Manning’s initial treatment in solitary confinement, for instance, met some Red Cross definitions of torture.)
But I am far more scared than hopeful, because nothing about the NDAA’s legislative passage worked as democracy is supposed to work. Senator Dianne Feinstein, for instance, in spite of her proposed (defeated) amendment that could have defended due process more completely, has nonetheless not fought to repeal the law – even though her constituents in California would, no doubt, overwhelmingly support her in doing so. Huge majorities passed this bill into law – despite the fact that Americans across the spectrum were appalled and besieging their legislators. And this president nailed it to the table – even though his own constituency is up in arms about it.
History shows that at this point, there isn’t much time to mount a defense: once the first few arrests take place, people go quiet. There is only one solution: organize votes loudly and publicly to defeat every single signer of this bill in November’s general election. Then, once we have our Republic back and the rule of law, we can deal with the actual treason that this law represents.