Archive for January, 2012

Nothing New in the National Defense Authorization Act

The National Defense Authorization Act (HR 1540) was signed on the last day of 2011. The bill, now law, has been in the non-mainstream news lately because of several clauses that “allow” the indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens without trial.

As always, discussion and skepticism about the claimed authority to cage human beings forever, without a stated reason, and without any recourse is extremely healthy and I applaud anyone who brings the topic up at all[1].

That said, the belief that this power hasn’t always existed under the Constitution is patently incorrect. The indefinite detention of the seditious without trial is as old as “the republic” itself. A typical American lifetime has seen multiple instances of indefinite political mass-detention cloaked in the claim of national defense; ours is unlikely to be any different.

The root of the problem isn’t that the current government is becoming tyrannical, it is already demonstrably so. The root is that the government has always been tyrannical. It has always used prisons and the military/police to kill or cage anyone[2], foreign or domestic, who challenges the existing power structure in a meaningful way. What we’re currently witnessing is simply the increase in numbers of domestic subjects who recognize, to some degree, the nature of the existing structures and who are compelled to challenge them.

The NDAA, then, is just a reminder that you too are subject to indefinite, trial-free detention; or indefinite military detention; or trial-free military detention. You will not, however, be held indefinitely in military detention without a trial, they promise.

Besides not being worth the paper it’s written on, the signing statement will not protect anyone from disappearing whom the government deems to be a threat to “business as usual.” Even the party hacks for the democrats concede that point. Their focus is on the fact that the NDAA claims not to expand current executive power . . . aaand that the executive can currently do whatever it wants to anyone in the world. History, both mainstream and revisionist, reminds us in no uncertain terms that government has always claimed and exercised this power.

Simplistic, though thoroughly sufficent, evidence is offered by the Injustice Everywhere’s worst police misconduct of the year poll[3].
Here you will see a sampling of the thousands of instances of government killing, detaining, and caging human beings without trial.

You could argue that the killers aren’t from the military–not even the federal government in most cases. I would like you to reexamine the trees and keep an eye out for the forest. Putting aside uniform colors and the jurisdictional questions of whose cages/bullets belong to whom, your rulers will not let you disobey in any meaningful way. Even movements as mainstream as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are threatening enough to provoke fear-mongering about domestic terrorists and reminders, like the NDAA, of the price of dissent.

To sum up: the NDAA is a reiteration of the relationship between the subjects and the rulers. The rulers can beat, cage and kill anyone they want at will. There is no systemic recourse to speak of. There are no legal nor practical limits to their power over you within the nation-state framework. Until this observable fact is . . . observed by a critical mass of the ruled, we will continue to exist and live our lives at the pleasure of the power structure.

Update: Glenn Greenwald and Mike Adams do wonkier and better written analyses of NDAA but come to similar conclusions.

  1. [1] I’m definitely not trying to use the “This has always been a problem, so shut up,” technique. Rather, I’m going for, “let’s talk about how f’d up it is that this has always been and continues to be the case.
  2. [2] It will also, without hesitation, kill or cage anyone in the vicinity or of the same race or religion.
  3. [3] I originally misattributed the poll to, another great, illuminating website. Thanks Ademo for the correction