Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The NDAA and Indefinite Detention

Last week was the tenth anniversary of the military prison at Guantanamo, with newspapers dutifully marking the occasion with “Guantanamo at Ten” columns, op-eds and blog posts. A handful of papers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirerand the Miami Herald, even ran editorials calling for the prison’s closure.

It was a blip in media exposure for the 171 prisoners at the facility, who have otherwise been largely forgotten.  Guantanamo has fallen off the headlines in the last couple of years, attracting minimal journalistic scrutiny and scant public interest. Few Americans seem to care that the facility is still open and an even smaller number are actively pressing for it to close.

The lack of concern is unfortunate.  It is especially troubling given that indefinite detention without charge—the issue that Guantanamo embodies—has generated heated debate in recent months.

The Indefinite Detention of US Citizens

The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a federal statute essentially meant to codify the Guantanamo approach to justice, evoked a fair measure of outrage and alarm. Right wing radio announcer Rush Limbaugh condemned the new law as “total authoritarianism,” and liberal law professor Jonathan Turley warned that it was “one of the greatest rollbacks of civil liberties in the history of our country” — an unusual and possibly unprecedented coincidence of views.  Online petition sites are overflowing with calls for the NDAA’s repeal, at least one of which has tens of thousands of signatories, and some are even demanding the recall of the “treasonous” members of Congress who voted for the legislation.

But most of the op-eds, editorials, and blog posts denouncing the detention provisions of the NDAA had little to say about the Yemenis, Afghans, Kuwaitis and other non-US citizens who have been held at Guantanamo for the past decade.  Turley’s jeremiad did not even mention Guantanamo; nor did Limbaugh, in his radio harangue.

The civil liberties issue that has resonated with the American public is the possibility that American citizens suspected of terrorism could be picked up by US military forces and held indefinitely without charge.  This is a non-trivial concern, at least in the long term, given the language of the relevant provisions of the NDAA, which does not distinguish between citizens and non-citizens; given post-9/11 detention practices (US citizen Jose Padilla was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and held in military custody for three-and-a-half years without charge), and given the unsettled state of Supreme Court precedent on these questions.

But the theoretical possibility that an American citizen could be held indefinitely pales, in real human terms, next to the indisputable fact that 171 non-citizens remain behind bars at Guantanamo, all but five of them without formal charge. (Four prisoners have been convicted and one is facing terrorism and other charges.)

Whatever the NDAA may mean for Americans—and I should be clear that I think it is very bad news—it is worse for non-citizens. It was clearly designed to obstruct Guantanamo’s closure, to coerce President Obama into using military options when dealing with non-citizens suspected of terrorism, if not force him to do so, and to raise the political and procedural costs of relying on the civilian justice system.

The Indefinite Detention of Non-Citizens

Americans are not the only ones who cherish liberty.  The families of the 171 men detained without charge at Guantanamo, though they have no electoral means to influence US policy and little sway with the US public, believe their loved ones deserve a fair process for adjudicating their guilt or innocence.

Think about it.  Are you outraged at the thought of being held without charge by your own government?  Now consider being held indefinitely by someone else’s government.

Joanne Mariner is the director of Hunter College’s Human Rights Program. She is an expert on human rights, counterterrorism, and international humanitarian law.  

This column previously appeared on Justia’s Verdict.

More articles by:

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer living in New York and Paris.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail