Thursday, December 15, 2011

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act

Yesterday, it was reported that President Obama was prepared to sign legislation that would allow indefinite detention without trial for terrorism suspects. Previously, President Obama had indicated he would veto the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, section 1031, but has reportedly changed his position on the law.

If this legislation is enacted, this will be the first time since 1950 that such indefinite detention would be authorized in the United States. In addition to authorizing such detention, this legislation also prohibits the transfer of any detainees being currently held at Guantanamo onto United States soil for any reason, and would limit the ability to transfer these detainees to other countries, even if they have been cleared for release.

At the start of Obama’s administration, he had stated that one of his goals was to permanently close Guantanamo as a prison for terrorist suspects, going as far as to signing an Executive Order as to this plan. However, the signing of this legislation will further extend the operation of Guantanamo where currently 171 detainees are being held.

Additionally, this legislation will require the United States military to take custody of some terrorism suspects. Some of these suspects may already be detained within the borders and being handled by federal, state, and/or local law enforcement. In debating this legislation, “several senior administration officials, including the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of the CIA, all raised objections that this provision interfered with the administration’s ability to effectively fight terrorism.” Recent statistics seem to support this argument: in the last 10 years over 400 people have been prosecuted in U.S. Federal Courts for terrorism related offenses, while, during that same period, only six cases have been prosecuted in the military commissions.

Human Rights organizations have issues with this legislation, and their concerns appear to be valid. To start with, and most obvious, is that people can be detained for suspicion of terrorism without ever having a chance to stand trial. Without trial, it is plausible that many innocent people will be held improperly; no fact finding will be required and potentially no direct evidence will be required to hold these suspects.

Secondly, the enactment of this law contradicts what President Obama had promised at the beginning of his term. The closing of Guantanamo became a priority due to several issues with the site; there were allegations of torture, improper conditions and the fact that many detainees had be at the location, without trial or other investigation, for longer than what many thought was proper. This legislation specifically authorizes this indefinite detention, an issue which President Obama stated he would resolve.

Terrorism is an important issue that the United States must address. However, there are proven methods to do so without this legislation. Specifically, it is unnecessary for the military to take custody of suspects from agencies that are already set up and seemingly acting more effectively in handling these terrorism cases. The added cases the military would have to handle would only serve to make them less effective.

For the article and position of the Human Rights Watch, click here.

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