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
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
Franklin Lamb
Hezbollah Claims a 20-Seat Parliamentary Majority
William Loren Katz
Oliver Law, the Lincoln Brigade’s Black Commander
Ralph Nader
The Constitution and the Lawmen are Coming for Trump—He Laughs!
Tom Clifford
Mexico ’70 Sets the Goal for World Cup 
David Swanson
What Else Canadians Should Be Sorry For — Besides Burning the White House
Andy Piascik
Jane LaTour: 50+ Years in the Labor Movement (And Still Going)
Jill Richardson
Pruitt’s Abuse of Our Environment is Far More Dangerous Than His Abuse of Taxpayer Money
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
Pardons Aren’t Policy
Daniel Warner
To Russia With Love? In Praise of Trump the Includer
Raouf Halaby
Talking Heads A’Talking Nonsense
Julian Vigo
On the Smearing of Jordan Peterson: On Dialogue and Listening
Larry Everest
A Week of Rachel Maddow…or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ronald Reagan
David Yearsley
Hereditary: Where Things are Not What They Sound Like
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail