You are hereBlogs / davidswanson's blog
Presidential candidate Barack Obama won the Democratic primary last time around largely on the strength of his extremely limited and inconsistent opposition to the war on Iraq. Then he chose as his running mate Senator Joe Biden, a man who had led efforts in the U.S. Senate to support the invasion. Obama's staff told reporters that he would be inclined to keep Robert Gates on as Secretary of War (or "Defense") -- exactly the same plan proposed by Senator John McCain's campaign. Obama said he'd like Colin Powell to be a part of his administration, and repeatedly announced that his cabinet would include Republicans. Obama had approached leading warmonger Congressman Rahm Emanuel about becoming his chief of staff.
The idea of economic conversion, of retooling and retraining pieces of the military industrial complex to build what other wealthy nations have (infrastructure, energy, education, etc.) converged with the end of the Cold War two decades back. It was time for a peace dividend as well as a little sanity in public spending. Among the cosponsors of a bill to begin economic conversion in the late 1980s was a guy by the name of Leon Panetta.
Standing in the way was Congressman Newt Gingrich (Republican, Lockheed Martin).
As Mary Beth Sullivan recounts ( http://MIC50.org ),
The best book I've read in a very long time is a new one: "The End of War" by John Horgan. Its conclusions will be vigorously resisted by many and yet, in a certain light, considered perfectly obvious to some others. The central conclusion -- that ending the institution of war is entirely up to us to choose -- was, arguably, reached by (among many others before and since) John Paul Sartre sitting in a café utilizing exactly no research.
Horgan is a writer for "Scientific American," and approaches the question of whether war can be ended as a scientist. It's all about research. He concludes that war can be ended, has in various times and places been ended, and is in the process (an entirely reversible process) of being ended on the earth right now.
I recently recommened a comprehensive Constitutional amendment addressing the corruption of our elections.
The largest piece of it, largely inspired by an amendment drafted by Russell Simmons, had not been introduced in Congress . . . until now.
Congressman Dennis Kucinich has just introduced HJRes100 which proposes this Constitutional Amendment:
Section 1. All campaigns for President and Members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate shall be financed entirely with public funds. No contributions shall be permitted to any candidate for Federal office from any other source, including the candidate.
Section 2. No expenditures shall be permitted in support of any candidate for Federal office, or in opposition to any candidate for Federal office, from any other source, including the candidate. Nothing in this Section shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.
Section 3. The Congress shall, by statute, provide limitations on the amounts and timing of the expenditures of such public funds.
Section 4. The Congress shall, by statute, provide criminal penalties for any violation of this Article.
Section 5. The Congress shall have the power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This does not state that corporations are not people or bribery is not speech or the moon is not made of cheese, but it proceeds accordingly and handles the corruption of our elections as effectively as anything I've seen. No amendment is completely comprehensive, but no completely comprehensive amendment is likely to get passed (or even read). I also doubt very much that Congress will ever advance any such amendment, at least until there is a serious threat from two-thirds of the states to circumvent Congress with a Constitutional Convention.
But if there is an amendment to build the list of cosponsors on, this looks like the one. This looks to me like something that the anti-corporate-personhood movement, the clean elections movement, the peace movement, and every other cause for peace, justice, or representative government should get behind. I don't mean get behind a politician or a party or censor your own complete demands. I mean get every possible Congress member to cosponsor this bill, which exists because of our movement.
Blocking funding without providing public financing is a half-solution. Limiting private election spending while leaving loopholes is no solution. Prohibiting private spending, creating public financing, and making those laws enforceable is a huge chunk of the solution.
We can all remember "H J Res 100". Now to ask our misrepresentatives to sign on!
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. An important rule to live by. So is this corollary: Friends don't let friends watch presidential primary debates.
I think the clip at this link is a safe dose bit.ly/xVAIF6 and I have survived it myself or I would not urge it on others.
I recommend it to you only because I believe it is important for us to stop and ask what it means for a group of people who tend to promote both Christianity and the combination of Christianity with politics to have just booed the golden rule.
Speaking to the resolution:
David Swanson (activist and author) 11:30
Larry Bishop (activist) 19:45
Tony Russell (activist) 21:15
Helena Cobban (author) 27:40
Ira Bashkow (U. of VA anthropology professor) 31:30
Brandon Collins (activist) 35:20
Stratton Slatis (sp?) 44:45
Councilmember Dede Smith 48:00
Councilmember Dave Norris 49:30
Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos 50:20
Councilmember Kathy Galvin 55:15
Mayor Satyendra Huja 56:35
Council discussion (15 minutes) 1:02:30
Martin Luther King Jr. stood up and opposed the war in Vietnam for the last three years of his life. He did not believe that by doing so he was failing to do something that goes by the name "supporting the troops." In fact his interest was in the well being of those men and women when he said:
"A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: 'This way of settling differences is not just.' This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Let us not hide acceptance of the mass murder of which war consists behind the patriotism of troops and flags. Howard Zinn spoke the truth when he said "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people for a purpose which is unattainable."
Let us not suppose that self-governance does not involve us, that using our money to kill in our name is none of our affair.
51 years ago today President Eisenhower warned of the danger posed by the Military Industrial Complex. He said "The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government."
Well, let us say this: not in our city.
Our City Council opposed attacking Iraq, and that stand was part of an effort that has educated the country. There are more ears prepared to hear warnings of war today. And the push for war is almost identical. Iran is not allowing inspections. The inspections that are not happening have found a weapons program. Never mind that the Secretary of Defense says it isn't true. Never mind that the New York Times has already had to apologize, several years ahead of schedule. Never mind that if all the claims were true there would still be no moral or legal ground for war.
The UN Charter forbids war, the Kellogg Briand Pact forbids war, the Hague Convention of 1899 requires that we take this dispute to arbitration.
We face the danger of a war with a nation three times the size and with many times the armaments of Iraq, a nation that has not attacked another in centuries, a nation which ours has almost completely surrounded, economically sanctioned, flown drones over, and funded terrorism within its borders, a nation we continue to threaten. Yes, we. You and I, unless we say otherwise.
Our lives begin to end, said Martin Luther King Jr, the day we become silent about things that matter. Let's not begin to end our lives tonight. Let's begin to end the institution of war instead.
There are many schemes now for undoing the doctrines under which corporations claim constitutional rights and bribery is deemed constitutionally protected "speech." Every single one of these schemes depends on a massive movement of public pressure all across the homeland formerly known as the United States of America. With such a movement, few of the schemes can fail. Without it, we're just building castles in the air. Nonetheless, the best scheme can best facilitate the organizing of the movement.
Published today, MLK Day 2012: The Military Industrial Complex at 50 is the most comprehensive collection available explaining what the military industrial complex (MIC) is, where it comes from, what damage it does, what further destruction it threatens, and what can be done and is being done to chart a different course.
Get your copy: http://MIC50.org
The authors (from within and without the MIC) include: Ellen Brown - Paul Chappell - Helena Cobban - Ben Davis - Jeff Fogel - Bunny Greenhouse - Bruce Gagnon - Clare Hanrahan - John Heuer - Steve Horn - Robert Jensen - Karen Kwiatkowski - Judith Le Blanc - Bruce Levine - Ray McGovern - Wally Myers - Robert Naiman - Gareth Porter - Chris Rodda - Allen Ruff - Mia Austin Scoggins - Tony Russell - Lisa Savage - Mary Beth Sullivan - Coleman Smith - Dave Shreve - David Swanson - Pat Elder - Jonathan Williams - Ann Wright.
Short bios of the authors are available here http://davidswanson.org/node/3511
The book is available at MIC50.org in paperback, bulk discount, audio, PDF, kindle, Epub, and iPad/iPhone.
The MIC, this book expertly argues, kills large numbers of people, endangers us, hollows out our economy, transfers our wealth to a tiny elite, devastates the natural environment, and threatens civil liberties, the rule of law, and representative government.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower found the nerve in his farewell speech in 1961 to articulate one of the most prescient, potentially valuable, and tragically as yet unheeded warnings of human history:
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous ris e of misplaced power exists and will persist.
"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
This collection shows that the "total influence" of the MIC has increased, the disastrous rise of misplaced power is no longer merely a potential event, our liberties and democratic processes are in a state of collapse, and that Ike himself disastrously misinformed the citizenry when he claimed that the very monster he warned of had been "compelled" by the need for "defense."
Get your copy: http://MIC50.org
A new book suggests that "It's the economy, stupid," may be more than political strategy; it may also be the key to environmental sustainability. The book is "Green Washed: Why We Can't Buy Our Way to a Green Planet," by Kendra Pierre-Louis. The argument developed is not just that the consumer choices of an individual won't save the planet without collective action, but also that the only collective action that will save us is abandoning the whole idea of consumer choices.
Just saying her name sounds like a joke: Baroness Bertha Felicitas Sophie Freifrau von Suttner, Gräfin, née Countess Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau. And when she began talking about ending war in mid-nineteenth century Austria it wasn't her name that was treated as a joke. Yet by the turn of the century, her idea seemed to be one whose time had come.
Bertha von Suttner's novel "Ground Arms," or "Lay Down Your Arms," was widely described as the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" of war abolition. It was doing and would accomplish for war what Harriet Beecher Stowe's book had for slavery. I can't encourage you strongly enough to take a quick break from the inanities of presidential debates and football announcers and buy the book, borrow the book, or read it free online.
Who knew rats were new to DC? I could have sworn I'd seen them around for years. I could have sworn the piles of trash following inaugurations, fourths of july, and tastes of dc left swarms of rats behind. I could have sworn that every time I've been in Freedom Plaza since October 6th it's been cleaner than 15th Street. Do you have any serious reason to believe your new found awareness of rats, like some people's new found awareness of the homeless people who have been there for decades, doesn't come more from the observing than from what is being observed? Did you know that the occupation of Freedom Plaza is campaigning for the investment in public services that would begin at long last to address this longstanding problem? Did you know that detailed reports, proposals, analyses, and yes demands can be found at http://occupywashingtondc.org ? Were you aware of the rat explosion and disease explosion in cities our military has bombed - which I'm sure the Post will be getting around to covering very very soon? Can you prove the DC rat population isn't expanding city-wide because so many people have found it appropriate to discard their copies of the Washington Post, thus providing lots of nesting material?
To Charlottesville Daily Progress:
On New Year's Eve the President signed a bill giving himself and future presidents the power to imprison anyone, including US citizens, forever with no trial, whether through the military or otherwise. President Obama stretched these outrageous powers even further in an unconstitutional law-altering signing statement. Congressman Robert Hurt voted against the Defense Authorization Act because it tosses out our Constitutional rights.
While this issue had been a major controversy for months, and the Daily Progress has never yet mentioned it in a news story, you addressed it in an editorial on January 9th, but your editorial simply argued for the flexibility of not always using the military because the legitimate justice system can reduce terrorism.
Nowhere do you mention that the final version of the bill gave the president that flexibility and more, that he now claims the power to imprison anyone forever without any formal process whatsoever. Nowhere do you mention that a week after the President signed the bill, Afghan President Karzai demanded that all Afghan prisoners be turned over within a month. And nowhere do you even touch on the question of the right to habeas corpus, the right not to be punished for treason unless convicted in open court on the testimony of two witnesses, the right to be secure in your person, or the right to a speedy and public trial and a jury trial.
Are all civil rights of simply negligible importance in comparison with fear of terrorism? Among the many many things that kill more of us than terrorism are dogs, and they're our "best friend." Take a deep breath please.
Note to Self:
Knock it off. They can't hear you.
I was on the Marc Steiner Show today talking Iran War with Reza Marashi, Research Director for the National Iranian American Council, who was excellent, and Charles "Sam" Faddis, who was a pro-war propagandist. LISTEN.
Bad idea #1: listen to Jack Abramoff.
Bad idea #2: this one I heard from Jack Abramoff who was holding forth on ethical and unethical bribery the other day on National Plutocracy Radio: If you give a candidate money because you love your country that's good. If you give a candidate money because you want a particular favor, that's bad (or, one might add, Abramoffian). The problem of course is that most people can't afford to give money, so your well-intentioned money perverts the government no matter how well-intentioned. It also opens a loophole for all the people who just want those particular favors.
Bad idea #3: leave a loophole for labor unions. This one you can hear from labor unions, which is why all the bills to amend the constitution and undo corporate rights introduced in Congress thus far abide by it. But labor unions are vastly overspent and would still be vastly overspent in a world with a tiny loophole just for unions because the mega corporations would create things that looked like unions to exploit the loophole, on top of which none of the bills will get anywhere unless they remove the loophole.
Bad idea #4: put energy into requiring disclosure of legal bribery rather than prevention of legal bribery. Most of what has already been disclosed about our government is widely unknown. Most of what is known is not acted on. Most of what is acted on is continued just the same. What's needed is an end to corporate personhood and financial speech.
Don't take it from me. Take it from the book being published today that will mainstream the movement to end corporate personhood: "Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do, And What You Can Do About It," by Jeff Clements with foreword by Bill Moyers.
Clements traces the development of the legal doctrine of corporate personhood back long before the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision two years ago this month, in particular to President Richard Nixon's appointment of Lewis Powell to the Supreme Court in 1972. Led by Powell's radical new conception of corporate rights, Clements shows, the court began striking down laws that protected living breathing persons' rights in areas including the environment, tobacco, public health, food, drugs, financial regulation, and elections.
This is where I can't go because I spoke.
And three of my friends got the same deal.
And in the next courtroom over our other friends were convicted by a jury of opposing torture.
And right across the hall our other friend completed her probation for having interrupted Netanyahu even though he thanked her and bragged about how she'd be treated worse in Iran, even though the assault she suffered in the US Capitol put her in a neck brace.
It was a great day for the First Amendment in Washington today.
Now, we're only banned for 6 months, and we can get invitations in writing from Congress or the Supreme Court to come and protest them as a way around the ban (I wonder how that's going to work).
We did happen to be in a Senate committee hearing when we spoke, but they were speaking quite endlessly about corporate trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea. They said they'd try to help some of the people they threw out of work. I asked why they didn't just leave them their jobs. I was arrested. Then they spoke a lot about Korean tariffs vs US tariffs on beef, and one of us criminals asked why we really needed to ship beef back and forth across the Pacific. Handcuffs on her. This was in October. Here we are in January finding out what is to be done to us to protect the Homeland.
It turns out we're not a threat to the Homeland at all, just to one little hill.
The push to attack Iran has been on for so long that entire categories of arguments for it (such as that the Iranians are fueling the Iraqi resistance) have come and gone. At DontAttackIran.org we've been collecting the arguments for and against attacking Iran for years. We've campaigned against an attack, but never been able to claim a success, because decisions not to launch wars are never announced, because those pushing for wars never give up, and because those believing what their government tells them think the Pentagon never campaigns for wars but is forced into them defensively on short notice by attacks from evildoers.
Scott Horton will host an online chat with you and David Swanson this Saturday, January 7th from 5 to 7 pm ET about Swanson's new book When the World Outlawed War, "a masterful account of how people in the United States and around the world worked to abolish war as a legitimate act of state policy and won in 1928, outlawing war with a treaty that is still on the books."
At the first meeting of the new Charlottesville, Va., City Council Tuesday evening, four of the five city council members publicly expressed their intention to support a resolution asking Congress to reduce military spending, a resolution likely to be discussed and voted on at the council's next meeting on the evening of January 16th, Martin Luther King Day. The fifth member expressed no view, so the possibility exists for unanimous support. One of the four members who expressed support for the draft resolution that we had proposed added that he would like to see it amended to also oppose the launching of a war against Iran. Another member also expressed an interest in revising the draft in some unspecified way prior to the next meeting.
The City of Charlottesville posts videos of its meetings online, but the video that can be downloaded and edited includes no audio, so I'm unable to show you just the relevant bits of the meeting. However, you can find them with the handy-dandy guide below this video:
First come 3-minute public comments from some of us in support of the resolution. Scroll ahead to . . . 17:07 for Brandon Collins, immediately followed at 20:43 by David Swanson. Jump ahead to 34:36 for Kirk Bowers, and to 38:30 for Nancy Carpenter. Then at 47:20 Stratton speaks on another issue but connects it very well to this one.
Following public comments, each of the five city council members replied briefly. First new member Kathy Galvin spoke on other topics and did not mention the resolution at all. Next, at 53:28 new member Dede Smith spoke in support of the resolution, and at 54:22 Kristin Szakos did so as well but suggested that it should be voted on at the next meeting on MLK Day, while at 55:10 Dave Norris spoke in support of the resolution and of adding to it opposition to attacking Iran. Norris's term as mayor ended at this meeting, but as mayor in 2011 he had been an early supporter of the resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors asking Congress to reduce military spending. Brand new mayor Satyendra Huja spoke last and did not touch the topic at that point.
Now, enjoy lots of unrelated discussion or jump way ahead to 2:35:30 for Pat Lloyd, another member of the public who speaks up for the resolution. Then skip ahead to 2:49:48 at which point Mayor Huja says that he too supports the resolution, and Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones asks the five members to submit any proposed edits to the resolution to him (or to "staff") by the end of this week.
The book that I present to the Mayor in the video can be found at http://MIC50.org
Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice is supporting this resolution.
UPDATE: Meeting will be on 17th, not 16th.
If you watch the above pitch for Oxytocin as the hormone of morality, it will quickly become clear that this guy and the rest of us actually know very little about how our brains and blood and bodies work. In fact, another guy claims that oxytocin is the hormone of ethnocentrism, not of universal love. Of course it's being marketed as a spray that can make people trust you. And a little reflection can make you realize that there is an enormous gap between personal relations and war making. If you trust your boss at the Pentagon more will you work for war less? Would we really want the peace movement purged of everyone in it who isn't terribly nice or trusting?
There is, however, in the above video something I find particularly interesting. It's the part where he says that testosterone may be an opponent of oxytocin but it also makes people (or at least men) more eager to punish immoral actions by others. Now, I have no idea if that is true or as simple as described. I would be willing to bet that description will change soon if it hasn't already. What interests me is the possibility of thinking of the punishment of war as sharing a motivation with war — whether or not that motivation is tied to testosterone.
Of course, I want war makers punished if it will prevent and deter war making, but I want them punished with prison and rehab. I don't want them punished with war. The idea behind the United Nations, and the League of Nations before it, not to mention NATO, is to use war to punish war. This results, of course, in lots of wars that merely pretend to punish war. And that would not be the case if we were not considering war an available option. Europe has stopped thinking of war as an option internally, but not abroad. The United States thinks of little other than war in foreign relations, and is beginning to train domestic police to make war on their own. What we need is not so much the right hormone as the right way of thinking. That way of thinking will of course exist in a complex physical event within brains, but "complex" is the key word. If peace can be sprayed up somebody's nose, today's scientists are nowhere near knowing how, and a general inclination to trust or love does not begin to approach it.
Monday morning at 7 PT on Lila Garrett’s CONNECT THE DOTS we’ll review the old year and prioritize the new with:
DAVID SWANSON covering the NDAA (Nat’l. Defense Authorization Act) which has been signed into law. It gives the President absolute power over anyone he accuses of terrorism, including Americans. No formal charge is mandated, and there is no right to trial. There goes the two premises on which our justice system is based… presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. And while our democracy struggles to survive this assault…..
DAVID SEGAL Exec Director of “Demand Progress” covers SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act HR 3261) an Internet piracy bill presumably to protect copyright for the entertainment business. But it has the potential to severely censor the Internet. It needs mass phone calls to Congress to be stopped.
GAR ALPEROWITZ discusses his new book, AMERICA BEYOND CAPITALISM. Where are we headed in 2012? Monday morning at 7 on CONNECT THE DOTS.
Lila Garrett (Host of CONNECT THE DOTS)
KPFK 90.7 FM in LA; 98.7 Santa Barbara: 93.7 San Diego
Airs Mondays from 7AM to 8AM.
To pod cast or download the broadcast just use this link:
Each show is on line for three months.
Let me be clear.
Obama has always claimed the power to wage war on anyone anywhere, to search, seize, imprison, rendition, torture, or murder anyone. He has in fact openly murdered US citizens, among many other human beings.
Obama asked Congress to legislate the power for U.S. presidents to imprison anyone without any trial or any legal-looking process whatsoever, and to not make an exception for U.S. citizens.
Obama came close to getting what he wanted.
He got the power to imprison without trial.
Obama then engaged for the umpteenth time in an abuse as dangerous in itself as any other. He rewrote the law as he signed it. In doing so, Obama gave himself the power to imprison without even military kangaroo courts and without even the formality of pretended "status review hearings."
And the vast majority of organizations and individuals who would have raised hell and resisted this had Obama been a Republican, did not do a god damned thing about it.
Of course, for most of them, the opposition they would have exercised had Obama been a Republican, would have been shallow and phony and motivated by an immediate interest in generating negative press. Any actual concern over Republican presidents possessing these outrageous powers would, of course, have led to opposition to Obama seizing them, since what Obama seizes will remain for each of his successors.
For details on what was going on during the football games and drinking of New Year's Eve go here.
Hell of a way to start a year, people.
Let's step it up a bit, huh?
OK, she's talking about Wilson, but it's the same thing:
If, after the declaration of his foreign policy, it seemed to our group that desire and achievement were united in one able protagonist, the philosopher become king, so to speak, this state of mind was destined to be short lived, for almost immediately the persistent tendency of the President to divorce his theory from the actual conduct of state affairs threw us into a state of absolute bewilderment. During a speaking tour in January, 1917, he called attention to the need of a greater army, and in St. Louis openly declared that the United States should have the biggest navy in the world.
These were among the complaints registered the last time this nation had a king:
"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
"He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
"He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
"He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
"For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
"For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
"For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
"For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
"He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation."
To prevent the U.S. government from behaving like a king, the drafters of the U.S. Constitution empowered an elected legislature to write every law, to declare every war, and to remove its executive from office. To further prevent the abuse of individuals' rights, those authors wrote into the Constitution, even prior to the Bill of Rights, the right to habeas corpus and the right never to be punished for treason unless convicted in an open court on the testimony of at least two witnesses to an overt act of war or assistance of an enemy.
President Barack Obama waited until New Year's Eve to take an action that I suspect he wanted his willfully deluded followers to have a good excuse not to notice. On that day, Obama issued an unconstitutional signing statement rewriting a law as he signed it into law, a practice that candidate Obama had rightly condemned. The law that Obama was signing was the most direct assault yet seen on the basic structure of self-governance and human rights that once made all the endless U.S. shouting of "We're number one!" significantly less ludicrous. The National Defense Authorization Act is not a leap from democracy to tyranny, but it is another major step on a steady and accelerating decade-long march toward a police-and-war state.
President Obama has claimed the power to imprison people without a trial since his earliest months in office. He spoke in front of the Constitution in the National Archives while gutting our founding document in 2009. President Obama has claimed the power to torture "if needed," issued an executive order claiming the power of imprisonment without trial, exercised that power on a massive scale at Bagram, and claimed and exercised the power to assassinate U.S. citizens. Obama routinely kills people with unmanned drones.
The bill just signed into law, as sent to the President, said this:
"Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force."
In other words, Congress was giving its stamp of approval to the unconstitutional outrages already claimed by the President. But then, why create a new law at all? Well, because some outrages are more equal than others, and Congress had chosen to specify some of those and in fact to expand some of them. For example:
"Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war."
"The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following: (1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force."
Jon Stewart explained when those detained without trial under the law might be released: "So when the war on terror ends, and terror surrenders and is no longer available as a human emotion, you are free to go."
An exception for U.S. legal residents and citizens was kept out of the bill at President Obama's request.
So why did Obama threaten to veto the bill initially and again after it passed the Senate? Well, one change made by the conference committee was this (note the crossed-through text):
Secretary of DefensePresident may , in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence,waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the SecretaryPresident submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States."
The reference here is to military tribunals. The President — that is, the current one and future ones — need not hand someone over even to a military tribunal if . . . well, if he (or she) chooses not to.
That was the most power Obama could have transferred to the White House in this bill. But it was not absolute power, and was therefore not good enough. Hence the signing statement, the relevant portion of which begins:
"Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded."
This is Bush-Cheneyspeak for "I will not comply with the following sections of this law despite signing it into law."
After having persuaded the Congress to remove an exception for U.S. legal residents, Obama has the nerve in the signing statement to assert, not that the law makes any such exception, but that he personally will choose to do so, at least for U.S. citizens. Future presidents may lock U.S. citizens up without trials, but Obama won't do so. He promises:
"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."
The first two sentences above are highly unusual if not unprecedented. Most, if not all, of Bush and Obama's law-altering signing statements up to this point have not sought to clarify what a particular administration would choose to do. Rather, they have focused on declaring parts of the laws invalid. Usually this is done in a manner misleadingly similar to the third sentence above. By claiming the power to interpret a law in line with the Constitution, Bush and Obama have each on numerous occasions asserted the view that the Constitution grants presidents far-reaching powers that cannot be restricted by legislation. If Obama had wanted to deny that this law could be applied to U.S. citizens (or legal residents), the above paragraph would look very different, although equally unusual in that it would then be rejecting power rather than claiming it.
Also note, as Marcy Wheeler has already pointed out, Section 1021 applies to any detention, and Obama promises only not to subject U.S. citizens to indefinite military detention. While locked away forever without a trial you'll be able to take comfort that yours is a non-military imprisonment.
Also, remember that Obama claims and exercises the power to kill U.S. citizens or anyone else (arguably at least as serious a violation of rights as imprisonment!), and for that he will use the military if he sees fit, or even allow the military to operate freely.
Also notice that legal residents are not included in the category of citizens.
Next, Obama declares Section 1022 on military custody "ill-conceived." His personal right to a waiver, won through the conference committee, was not enough. Obama insists on also erasing this section of law: "I reject," he writes,
"any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat. While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations. I have concluded that section 1022 provides the minimally acceptable amount of flexibility to protect national security. Specifically, I have signed this bill on the understanding that section 1022 provides the executive branch with broad authority to determine how best to implement it, and with the full and unencumbered ability to waive any military custody requirement, including the option of waiving appropriate categories of cases when doing so is in the national security interests of the United States. … I will therefore interpret and implement section 1022 in the manner that best preserves the same flexible approach that has served us so well for the past 3 years and that protects the ability of law enforcement professionals to obtain the evidence and cooperation they need to protect the Nation."
Obama goes on to reject several other sections of the law, including restrictions on his unlimited power to rendition prisoners to other countries. Among the notable rejections is this:
"Sections 1023-1025 needlessly interfere with the executive branch's processes for reviewing the status of detainees. Going forward, consistent with congressional intent as detailed in the Conference Report, my Administration will interpret section 1024 as granting the Secretary of Defense broad discretion to determine what detainee status determinations in Afghanistan are subject to the requirements of this section."
In other words, U.S. prisoners held in Afghanistan will not be given even any formal pretense of a legalistic review of their status unless Obama and his Secretary of "Defense" see fit.
I've just been editing a forthcoming book in which one of the contributors writes:
"In 1971, Congress passed the Anti-Detention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 4001(a), which states that "no person shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress." Fred Koramatsu, who had brought the unsuccessful case before the Supreme Court, was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor. Congress apologized and provided for limited reparations for this heinous act."
The author is referring to the unconstitutional indefinite detention of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. This type of criminal abuse for which Congress had to apologize and pay reparations, and for which there is a misleadingly pro-war-looking memorial hidden between the U.S. Capitol and Union Station, has now been effectively sanctioned by our Constitutional Scholar in Chief.
My chief regret is that we have not seen the major resistance we could have, and without any doubt would have, seen to this if only Obama were a Republican.