Some votes were taken, a document was signed. Nothing really happened. Nothing actually changed. Did it?
The indefinite detention of citizens by the military, authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act, is perceived by most of those who voted for it — and that small proportion of citizens who have noticed — as a narrowly targeted expediency to be used in extraordinary cases against very bad guys.
Besides the President has stated,
I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.
Nothing has changed, the President assures us. Just words on paper and his words protect us from their words.
What about the next administration? Or the one after that?
Did you notice the arrest of an Ottumwa Iowa sixteen-year-old just before Christmas? She’s been charged with terrorist conspiracy. The charge conforms with the letter-of-the-law. I expect most of those who originally crafted the law did not anticipate it would be applied in this sort of circumstance.
Have you noticed meaning tends to morph over time?
Three days after the arrest of the Ottumwa teenager, Congressman Ron Paul told supporters in a teleconference:
The founders wanted to set a high bar for the government to overcome in order to deprive an individual of life or liberty. To lower that bar is to endanger everyone. When the bar is low enough to include political enemies, our descent into totalitarianism is virtually assured. The Patriot Act, as bad as its violations against the Fourth Amendment was, was just one step down the slippery slope. The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act continues that slip into tyranny, and in fact, accelerates it significantly.
Tuesday night, Congressman Paul did very well at the Wapello County Republican Caucus. The caucus was held at the high school in which the alleged terrorist is enrolled.
I wonder if the caucus goers noticed any connection between the local arrest and what the Congressman had to say.
Did you notice the January 2 death of Gordon Hirabayahsi? Here are a few paragraphs from the NYT obit:
In February 1942, two months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the name of protecting the nation against espionage and sabotage, authorized the designation of areas from which anyone could be excluded. One month later, a curfew was imposed along the West Coast on people of Japanese ancestry, and in May 1942, the West Coast military command ordered their removal to inland camps in harsh and isolated terrain.
Mr. Hirabayashi, a son of Japanese immigrants, was a senior at the University of Washington when the United States entered World War II. He adhered to the pacifist principles of his parents, who had once belonged to a Japanese religious sect similar to the Quakers.
When the West Coast curfew was imposed, ordering people of Japanese background to be home by 8 p.m., Mr. Hirabayashi ignored it. When the internment directive was put in place, he refused to register at a processing center and was jailed.
Contending that the government’s actions were racially discriminatory, Mr. Hirabayashi proved unyielding. He refused to post $500 bail because he would have been transferred to an internment camp while awaiting trial. He remained in jail from May 1942 until October of that year, when his case was heard before a federal jury in Seattle.
Found guilty of violating both the curfew and internment orders, he was sentenced to concurrent three-month prison terms. While his appeal was pending, he remained at the local jail for an additional four months, then was released and sent to Spokane, Wash., to work on plans to relocate internees when they were finally released.
His appeal, along with one by Mr. Yasui, a lawyer from Hood River, Ore., who had been jailed for nine months for curfew defiance, made its way to the Supreme Court. In 1943, ruling unanimously, the court upheld the curfew as a constitutional exercise of the government’s war powers. Mr. Hirabayashi served out his three-month prison term at a work camp near Tucson.
The Supreme Court declined to rule at the time on Mr. Hirabayashi’s challenge to internment as well. (Mr. Yasui had contested only the curfew.) But in December 1944, in a case brought by Mr. Korematsu, a welder from Oakland, Calif., the court upheld the constitutionality of internment in a 6-to-3 vote.
Mr. Hirabayashi later spent a year in federal prison for refusing induction into the armed forces, contending that a questionnaire sent to Japanese-Americans by draft officials demanding a renunciation of any allegiance to the emperor of Japan was racially discriminatory because other ethnic groups were not asked about adherence to foreign leaders.
The Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu cases were revisited in the 1980s after Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, found documents indicating that the federal government, in coming before the Supreme Court, had suppressed its own finding that Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were not, in fact, threats to national security.
In September 1987, a three-member panel of a federal appeals court in San Francisco unanimously overturned Mr. Hirabayashi’s conviction for failing to register for evacuation to an internment camp and for ignoring a curfew. The convictions of Mr. Korematsu and Mr. Yasui had been overturned earlier.
Have you noticed that individuals, neighborhoods, and nations can react to surprise and stress in unexpected ways? Sometimes good, sometimes bad.
The President is not a tyrant. The members of Congress who crafted and voted for the NDAA were motivated to protect citizens, not oppress citizens.
Have you noticed the best intentions do not always deflect bad consequences?
The language and structure of the NDAA in regard to military detention of citizens is dangerously ambiguous.
In this ambiguity we have chosen to leave a path on which we have been progressing for a considerable period. This new path may be a brief diversion that soon rejoins the old path. Our choice might also be taking us in a very different direction. We don’t know yet. It probably depends on something ahead that we cannot yet see… something that will either cause the paths to cross or further diverge.
I regret this departure from the old path. But what concerns me even more is the sense that most of those on the path don’t seem to notice there was a fork in the road and we made a choice.