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Indefinite Detention of American Citizens: Coming Soon to Battlefield U.S.A.

Indefinite Detention of American Citizens: Coming Soon to Battlefield U.S.A.

There’s some disturbing rhetoric flying around in the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, which among other things contains passages that a) officially codify the already-accepted practice of indefinite detention of "terrorist" suspects, and b) transfer the responsibility for such detentions exclusively to the military.

The fact that there’s been only some muted public uproar about this provision (which, disturbingly enough, is the creature of Wall Street anti-corruption good guy Carl Levin, along with John McCain) is mildly surprising, given what’s been going on with the Occupy movement. Protesters in fact should be keenly interested in the potential applications of this provision, which essentially gives the executive branch unlimited powers to indefinitely detain terror suspects without trial.

The really galling thing is that this act specifically envisions American citizens falling under the authority of the bill. One of its supporters, the dependably-unlikeable Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, bragged that the law "basically says … for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield" and that people can be jailed without trial, be they "American citizen or not." New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte reiterated that "America is part of the battlefield."

Officially speaking, of course, the bill only pertains to:

"... a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."

As Glenn Greenwald notes, the key passages here are "substantially supported" and "associated forces." The Obama administration and various courts have already expanded their definition of terrorism to include groups with no connection to 9/11 (i.e. certain belligerents in Yemen and Somalia) and to individuals who are not members of the target terror groups, but merely provided "substantial support."

The definitions, then, are, for the authorities, conveniently fungible. They may use indefinite detention against anyone who "substantially supports" terror against the United States, and it looks an awful lot like they have leeway in defining not only what constitutes "substantial" and "support," but even what "terror" is. Is a terrorist under this law necessarily a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban? Or is it merely someone who is "engaged in hostilities against the United States"?

Here’s where I think we’re in very dangerous territory.

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rollingstone.com

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