Are We Becoming A Police State? Five Things That Have Civil Liberties Advocates NervousSubmitted by Alliance With None on Mon, 01/07/2013 - 08:40
Is our Constitution under siege?
Many civil liberties advocates fear it might be. They’re worried about a provision tucked into the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, approved by the Senate last week, that would allow the military to detain without a trial any American citizen accused of being a terrorist, or of supporting terrorists who plot attacks against the United States. The ACLU called the proposal “an extreme position that will forever change our country.”
The indefinite detention provision is just one of many trends in policing and law enforcement that have civil liberties advocates alarmed. New external threats, as well as technological advancements, are posing new challenges to our Constitutional rights, advocates say. Policymakers are debating those issues in Congress and in the courts right now, and the decisions they make could have fundamental consequences for what it means to be an American.
Here are five issues that are especially worrisome to civil liberties watchdogs:
1. Indefinite military detentions of U.S. citizens
The provision, part of the bill that authorizes Pentagon spending for 2012, was drafted by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and has bipartisan support in the Senate. The thinking, according to supporters, is that “America is part of the battlefield” in the so-called war on terror, as Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire put it, so Americans should be fair game when it comes to finding and arresting terrorists.
The bill, however, takes the power to arrest and detain terrorists away from law enforcement officials, like the police or FBI, and gives it to the military, which, under the law, would have the power to imprison an American who “substantially supports” Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces” indefinitely, “without trial until the end of the hostilities.” And those hostilities aren’t likely to “end” any time soon, since the law that authorizes the use of military force against terrorists has no expiration date.
2. Targeting U.S. citizens for killing
Last week, lawyers for the Obama administration defended for the first time the administration’s decision to target radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, for killing. Awlawki, who was born in New Mexico, was killed in an American missile strike in September; the ACLU has criticized the targeted killing program as blatantly violating the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that no American citizen shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
At a national security conference last week, the lawyers for the Obama administration, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson, said American citizens are legitimate targets for killing when they take up arms against the U.S., according to the Associated Press. Jameel Jaffer, a deputy legal director for the ACLU, said in an interview in September that the targeted killing program sets up a precedent in which “U.S. citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government.”