NDAA Another Broken Promise by President Barack Obama and an Attack on Civil Liberties


On the last day of 2011, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the upcoming year, following the Act’s passage through the Senate (with an 86-13 margin) and House of Representatives (283-136). Passing an NDAA has been an annual act of the government for decades, but included in this year’s NDAA are provisions asserting “the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons … pending disposition under the law of war.” The vague definition provided by the bill for “covered persons” includes supporters of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda or “associated forces,” as well as “any person who has committed a belligerent act.” What constitutes associated forces or belligerent acts, though, is left to the president to determine. In addition, the bill also authorizes “enhanced interrogation techniques,” i.e., torture.

Obama’s handling of the NDAA has been nothing but deception and broken promises. 

First, the president pledged to veto the NDAA, should it reach his desk. He did not. He signed it, and in doing so broke his campaign promises to end the use of torture and roll back Bush-era curtailments of civil liberties. The NDAA also includes provisions which make it even more difficult to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp – another broken promise for Obama. Additionally, despite pledging, “I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law” during his time as Senator, he did exactly that. 

The signing statement itself includes language expressing Obama’s “serious reservations” about the bill, including a promise “not to authorize the indefinite detention without trial of American citizens.” However, this promise is nothing but a cruel joke in light of Senator Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) disclosure of the fact that the Obama administration expressly asked language preventing American citizens from being subject to indefinite detention without trial to be removed from the final bill. 

One of the few provisions of the bill that the administration seems to really object to is section 1029, which requires the Attorney General to confer with the Pentagon before filing criminal charges against suspected terrorists. Obama’s signing statement claims that this section limits flexibility, and states the administration’s intention to ignore it.

It is unsurprising that Obama signed the NDAA, despite his declared intent to veto it. After all, it was not so long ago that the President signed off on the extra-judicial assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Alwaki before announcing that fact to the world, following up that assassination with the killing of Alwaki’s 16-year old son. To go from assassination to imprisonment is hardly that large a step.

Indefinite detention without trial is, of course, not a new policy for the U.S., as the involuntary residents of Guantanamo Bay could tell you. Nor is torture or summary execution. What is sinister about the turn that America has taken in the last decade is that these actions are no longer denied. They are no longer reviled as being barbaric, or “the method of the enemy.” Instead they are justified in the name of security and safety.

Obama has the dishonor of being the man to sign those abhorrent practices into law. He will not be remembered fondly.

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