This week, Congress passed a defense-spending bill that illustrates the case I’ve been making since 2003 when I first became a regular columnist and learned to deal with hate mail for expressing it: that if we give up our core American principles in order to ‘win’ what the Bush Administration christened “The War on Terror” then we’ve already lost it. Osama bin Laden might be dead, but wherever he is – hopefully hell – I bet he’s smiling, because the insidious way Al-Qaeda managed to damage our psyches and corrupt our national values extends far beyond that tragic day a decade ago when hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
By voting for a National Defense Authorization Act with the controversial provisions for indefinite detention of any suspected terrorist including US Citizens ( at the complete discretion of the Executive Branch) without due process and extending the battleground within the United States Congress has now enshrined into law the despicable power grab of the last two Presidents.
Out of our entire CT Congressional delegation, only two and a half members had the courage to vote against the bill, namely Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Rep Chris Murphy. The half refers to Senator Blumenthal, who voted for the Udall/Webb amendment, which would have stripped the controversial provisions out of the Senate version of the bill, but when that failed to pass, voted for the final bill.
Rep. Joe Courtney, justified his vote on the basis that the requirement for military detention only pertains to non-citizens: “allowing for the option of addressing these individuals through civilian law enforcement agencies and courts.” The key word there is “option.” That option is at the discretion of the President. Doesn’t that make you feel sooooo much better?
Courtney goes on:
“To be clear, I did not seek inclusion of these provisions in the defense bill, nor would I have written these sections in this way had I been given the chance to. Ultimately, however, in being asked to evaluate these provisions and cast my vote, I found that the bill does not circumvent the rights of US Citizens, as claimed by some, and does little to change the current state of detention authorities claimed by two presidents and backed by the nation’s highest court. In fact, in dropping its veto threat on the final conference report on the bill, the White House stated that “the changes ensure that we are merely restating our existing legal authorities.”
What he neglects to point out is how the Government has dropped cases rather than fight them, in order to avoid testing their legitimacy in the court. Take the case of Doe vs. Gonzalez, where the government dropped the appeal after they’d successful muted the debate during the 2006 renewal of the Patriot And then read about how the Patriot Act gag order provision is being used in the case of a 16 year old American teenager and see if you feel quite as sanguine about all this as Rep. Courtney. I, personally, do not.
From the moment Congress passed the Patriot Act a mere forty-five days after September 11th – (the next person who opposes Healthcare Reform because it was “rushed through” but supported the Patriot Act gets a knuckle sandwich) our government began leading us down a dangerous path in the name of pursuing the- cleverly named “War on Terror”. While the terrorist threat we face is real, calling it a “war” deceived many Americans into believing it a finite term, and therefore they were willing to accept some “temporary” curtailments of civil liberties in order to feel safe.
But terrorism, as anyone who has lived abroad for any length of time knows, is like the Hydra of mythology. You cut off one head and another grows. It can only be contained by superior intelligence and constant vigilance. The idea that we were “fighting them over there so we didn’t have to fight them over here” was a $4 trillion myth created by Messrs Bush and Cheney. You know that budget deficit the GOP is so anxious to cut social programs to lower without any tax increases? According to that well-known socialist muckraker, The Wall Street Journal, the Iraq War accounts for 50 percent it.
Back in 2007 candidate Obama accused the Bush Administration of offering a “false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.” Under an Obama Administration, he promised: “No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient…That is not who we are, that is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. We will again set the example to the world that the law isn’t subject to the whim of stubborn rulers and that justice isn’t arbitrary. This administration acts like the way to ensure our security is to violate civil liberties. It is not. There are no shortcuts to protecting America.”
Yes! Exactly! Can we have that guy back? Now President Obama, after threatening to veto the bill if it required military detention of American citizens, now appears willing to sign an amended bill. Alas, his objection wasn’t based on important Constitutional and legal issues like habeas corpus and posse comitatus. Rather, it was that he wanted to ensure that the power for making decisions about indefinite military detention lay within the Executive Branch, rather than being prescribed by Congress.
What is so disturbing is that with each step we take it towards enshrining and codifying these previously anathema ideas into law, we are changing the very concept of who we are as a nation. Senator Blumenthal promises to “continue to seek modifications to address civil liberties concerns raised by several detainee provisions.” The problem is, as we’ve seen with the Patriot Act, once a draconian act is signed into law it is difficult to remove or even change it. It takes years to test each provision through the courts and in the meantime, we drift further from our American ideals.
In a recent, New York Times op-ed, two retired four-star Marine generals, Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, wrote, “some in Congress are all too willing to undermine our ideals in the name of fighting terrorism. They should remember that American ideals are assets, not liabilities.”
I salute Rosa DeLauro and Chris Murphy for being the only members of the CT delegation to recognize that.
Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.