US Senate approves indefinite detention
Last week, the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a $662 billion defense bill that would require the military to hold suspected al-Qaeda terrorists for an indefinite amount of time without a trial.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, President of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, says the bill stipulates an increase in the discretion of the government as regards the detention of people who are suspected of terrorism without the necessity of going through the usual constitutional requirements, even including American citizens.
Tell us what are the new provisions in this bill that the Senate passed last week?
The bill seems to stipulate an increase in the discretion of the government as regards the detention of people who are suspected of terrorism without the necessity of going through the usual constitutional requirements, even to the point – although this is disputed by the government since different parts of the bill seem to be contradictory to one another – but even including American citizens. The constitution hitherto has required various protections that would require – especially American citizens, but arguably persons in general who are detained for any kind of criminal charges – warrants for searches or seizures, charges formally to be filed and various opportunities for them to know that the charges are against them and to defend themselves. The purpose of these provisions is to treat people who are suspected of some kind of connection with terrorism to be treated as prisoners of war rather than people changes with a crime. And again, because of certain provisions in the bill it appears that it would apply to citizens as well.
So that seems to be a new source of controversy with this bill, concerning American citizens, because Guantanamo Bay has been riddled with people who have been fighting against keeping suspected terrorists from having a fair and just trial. Mr. Ahmad, what about that now the military will be handling these suspected terrorists as opposed to law enforcement agencies and the federal courts. How is it going to change the way the suspected terrorists are handled?
This is also a new concern that had come up before, actually a couple of decades before, in the Vietnam era. But at that time no such legislation had ever passed Congress. It’s just something that was discussed. Hitherto, in the US, it’s always been understood that the military plays no role at all in the maintaining of the domestic peace. However, under this legislation, you actually have provisions that appear to allow the military to engage in activities on American soil, even against American citizens. The closest that the US had previously allowed anything like a military body to engage in any kind of activity was possibility of the National Guard to engage in things like riot control and things like that. Here, that the regular standing army would be used to act on American soil and possibly against the American citizens is a step towards militarization of the US that is not only unconstitutional but is actually somewhat embarrassing at a time when you have for example in Egypt the popular demonstrations for demilitarization f the Egyptian society.
The bill was passed overwhelmingly in the Senate with a vote of 93 to 7. President Obama has already said that he will veto it and then next it needs to go through the House. Do you think that the House would pass this overwhelmingly?
That’s going to be interesting to see. The same considerations that have allowed the Senate to pass it overwhelmingly will be at play in the House. Of course, it’s the emotionalism which the subject of terrorism has been dealt with in the US. However, civil liberties groups are already mobilizing to try to get the American public to put pressure on the House to not only try to prevent its passage but to make sure that there is at least enough support in the House to veto it. That would have two effects: number one, In order to make sure that the president follows suit with his promise to veto the bill, but also to reverse the momentum for the bill so that, if it is vetoed, Congress won’t override that veto. Certainly, if all 93 members of the Senate maintain that position that would allow the Senate to override the veto.
This bill has a hefty price tag of $662 billion. Hefty as it may be, it’s still $43 billion less than the budget from last year. Is this a new money saving technique for defense spending?
I cannot believe that in the end this would in any way save money. Our military is already overstretched. And I realize there is the discussion of bringing more troops home, to reduce the number of troops in Iraq, to reduce further the number of troops in Afghanistan. But to bring home to then have them occupy the US seems to me would not reduce the cost. It would actually risk a kind of reaction against the US that we’ve already seen in the Occupy WS movement, for example. What’s going to happen is that they use these troops against those demonstrators and again, while I may seem a bit far-fetched at the moment, we remember during the Vietnam era that demonstrators were accused in some cases of being propaganda agents for foreign enemies. And not only that, but with the rise of the groups like The Weathermen, domestic violent groups, who are really engaged in terrorism, should a rise of such domestic violence in the US take place, under this bill, the military would have to deal with that as well. So I think that one has to be very cautious in trying to calculate what the bottom-line dollar costs are. Actually, I don’t quite understand how declaring a state of war against America’s own citizens is not going to be costly. After all, most costly in terms of human lives and material in the US in all its wars was probably the Civil War.