Military detention of U.S. citizens undermines Constitution

Military detention of U.S. citizens undermines Constitution
• Sun, Dec 18, 2011

By Dawud Walid

The United States Senate recently passed a bill that, if signed into law, could potentially turn the clock back on civil rights and relegate America to the level of a military-police state.

The National Defense Authorization Bill, which was included in the $662 billion defense bill, gives authority to the U.S. military to indefinitely detain American citizens who may be suspected of terrorism. More specifically, the bill provides that citizens who are deemed by the executive branch of government to be members of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or their affiliates may be detained without charges, inside and outside of the country.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution clearly states that persons shall not be held for infamous crimes without indictment. And due process is afforded to citizens, along with a speedy, public trial per the Sixth Amendment. Thus, to strip citizens of fundamental, constitutional rights through a non-transparent process of designating them as terrorists is in fact stripping persons of their citizenship. Hence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., stated, “Others of us believe that current law, including the Non-Detention Act that was enacted in 1971, does not authorize such indefinite detention of U.S. citizens arrested domestically.”

The problem is not that legitimate suspects should be arrested; they should. What is problematic is the lack of transparency in the process in which citizens are designated as terrorists by the executive branch. This opens the door for innocent persons to be detained, who would not be allowed their day in court to challenge evidence against them. 

As a nation, we should have learned from history, given there are Japanese Americans currently living who suffered unjust military detention under the guise of national security during World War II. Referencing the internment of Japanese Americans, Feinstein also stated, “We don’t pick up citizens, we don’t incarcerate them for 10 or 15 or 20 years until hostilities end — and no one knows when they will end — without giving them due process of law.”

As the U.S. State Department continuously chides nations like Uganda and Venezuela for “arbitrary arrests” and “detentions” of its citizens by their military forces without due process in the name of national security or public safety, we cannot allow our country to slip into the same category by imprisoning citizens in Guantanamo Bay-type limbo. 

History also shows that once our government is given broad, unchecked powers to designate persons as threats, the net expands and others get lumped in as sympathizers or “affiliates,” as the Senate bill’s loose language warns us. 

As defenders of the Constitution and human rights, we all should tell President Obama to veto the National Defense Authorization Bill, which undermines all of our rights. We should also demand accountability from Sen. Carl Levin , D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and co-sponsored this bill, which is clearly against our collective values as Americans.

Dawud Walid is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI).


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