Why the hell did Obama sign the indefinite detention bill?

Okay so I know we are all pissed. I’m even pissed and I normally give President Obama a huge benefit of the doubt.

President Obama signing the National Defense Authorization Agreement, or the NDAA, including provisions which do not prohibit the indefinite detention of American citizen “terror” suspects is wholly unacceptable.


Before we all become Ron Paul supporters over this it’s important to consider a few points about what the NDAA is and why the provisions about detention were included as policy riders (essentially as a poison pill) tacked on to the thousand page bill.

The NDAA is a must pass bill. It is the bill which literally funds the military. That includes paychecks for our military veterans. That includes paying for equipment and gear for our service members abroad. That includes funding our intelligence agencies and contractors which actually do a lot of important work to help protect us from actual terrorists.

This means that if Obama does not pass the NDAA then soldiers can’t eat.

So why didn’t Obama just veto the crap? Well, if he vetoes the bill, which was passed with enough votes to override that veto, it becomes law anyway. There is a very solid point to be made that he should have vetoed the bill to make the political point that the detention provisions were unconstitutional and unacceptable. That said, again troops need food. Their families need paychecks.

So what else was in the NDAA besides authorization for the Treasury Department to pay our soldiers and authoritarian language about indefinite detention? Glad you asked.

Also, included in the NDAA for the very first time were provisions to address the horrific problem of sexual assault in the military. The NDAA that was just signed included allowances for a servicewoman who is raped to transfer to a new base as to not be forced to live and see her rapist every day. Before this NDAA she was forced to live on the same base.

Lastly, two important points. In this situation I see Obama with two choices: veto that crap and have troop pay delayed and the bill passes anyway because of the veto override. OR, sign it and issue a signing statement assuring everyone that your administration isn’t going to go full dictatorship and start locking up everyone until the end of time (obviously, it’s not the Obama administration that is the cause for concern but how future administrations use this power). Obama chose the latter.

Secondly, the detention provisions in the bill are unconstitutional (any readers we have who are lawyers might want to chime in here) and will more likely than not be challenged in court. Things like the 4th, 5th, 6th, oh and the 8th Amendment come to mind? Even a conservative Roberts Court will take issue with these provisions.

The most important point of all here is that President Obama doesn’t make laws. Congress makes laws. So if you want better laws that don’t clearly violate the constitution and infringe on civil liberties, we need a better Congress that the one that just essentially blackmailed our Constitutional Law professor President to sign a bill you just know he didn’t want to.

So, go friggin’ vote in November.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/decius/ Dan

    Point of order: essential expenses, such as soldiers, may be incurred without congressional approval. That means that soldiers get paid, fed, and housed even if the appropriation ends. The nonessential employees, however, get furloughed. A veto requires another vote, even if the first vote had a high enough margin.

    Obama can also issue executive orders regarding the interpretation of the law, even if those interpretations are at odds with the intent. I’d like to see “enemy” “combatant” “detained” and “terror” defined by fiat. (once the definitions are in place and used, institutional inertia comes into play)

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    It is important that soldiers are paid and fed. I work, in part, so that a military will cease to exist but one cannot forget the lives of the people on the front lines. They don’t make these sorts of decisions and have limited say in their formation.

    I try to forget, if I can, the messiness of political compromise. Maybe only authoritarian control ever produces outcomes that are straightforward. It’s often cited how the trains always ran on time in Italy when Mussolini was dictator.

    • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

      Not actually true apparently; it was just dangerous to point out that they did not.

  • http://feministing.com/members/gibby/ Nina

    I think presenting the “other” side of an argument is always a good thing, but I am disappointed that the Feministing community continuously makes excuses for Obama. Hey, its your blog, your right, but it’s getting kind of old.

    He lied. He’s a fascist. And he’s doing more to hurt our civil liberties than any other President (yes, even more than Bush – though he laid down the building blocks).

    And unfortunately, the argument that Obama didn’t want to sign this bill is crap in my opinion. He clearly has no qualm killing American citizens. Remember Anwar-al-Awlaki? Him being an American didn’t stop Obama. The President clearly wanted more legalized power to go after Americans on American soil (and the fact that the government labels said Americans as terrorists is irrelevant). And he got exactly what he asked for.

    It’s time people stopped kidding themselves about what is going on in Washington. Obama is as much a part of the problem as the Congress is. It’s time we wake up.

    • http://feministing.com/members/ruthieoo/ Ruth Osorio

      All I wanted to say was yes. Nina, hell yes. A two party system in a blatant capitalist, nationalist, and militarist world will never produce a feminist, leftist president.

  • http://feministing.com/members/samll/ Sam Lindsay-Levine

    Obama threatened to veto the bill because it placed too many restrictions on the executive’s branch’s ability to perform extrajudicial killings and indefinite detention.

    From his signing statement:

    “Against that record of success, some in Congress continue to insist upon restricting the options available to our counterterrorism professionals and interfering with the very operations that have kept us safe. My Administration has consistently opposed such measures.”

    You can read his administration’s statement of policy regarding this legislation: it is very clear that the objection is that he does not want Congress to be able to intercede and impose restrictions on the Executive branch.

    I think it is essentially indisputable from Obama’s actions that he has gotten exactly what he wanted from this indefinite detention bill: as a matter of policy, he is strongly in favor of an unfettered executive branch, the power to detain indefinitely or kill without any trial or oversight, and continuing and expanding our endless war.

    (Maybe here is where I note for clarity that I probably intend to hold my nose and vote for him in November, since every other option is staggeringly worse, but I mean to do so with my eyes open.)

  • http://feministing.com/members/joshprov/ Josh

    “(obviously, it’s not the Obama administration that is the cause for concern but how future administrations use this power)”

    Uhhhh, isn’t this the same guy who decided he had the power to assassinate a US Citizen? Isn’t this the same guy who has made the same “state secrets” arguments that the Bush administration did? This is the same sort of “yes, he’s going against what we believe in AGAIN but he doesn’t like it” that we have heard on numerous issues, but when it comes to executive detention there is no excuse.

    (All that said, the fact that a victim of rape doesn’t have to face her rapist every day is a win and isn’t something i had heard about this bill)

  • http://feministing.com/members/miriamclaire/ Miriam

    Forgive me for being ignorant… but if the people being detained indefinitely don’t get a court case, how can this get sent to be struck down in court? Will outside parties have standing?

  • http://feministing.com/members/leaho/ Leah Oviedo

    Nothing ignorant about that comment Mariam. We already hold people in jail without access to a lawyer. Ask any US citizen who is of an Arabic background that was rounded up after 2011 for no reason other than their heritage. Whole families were put in jail for months and years with no access to lawyers.

    This bill reminds me of internment camps for Japanese Americans. Remember that? Indefinite detention.

    This bill is another example of how out democracy fails us. The fact that we have to give up rights to get rights undermines the whole point. I appreciate that the writer gives both sides of an argument. However from my experience, both sides are so flawed because each has to give up something they believe in for something else that is not as important. It isn’t an argument anymore. It is just a lame compromise.

    I am disappointed that we are moving towards such a police state. That should be a major concern to all citizens. History has shown us that any group, race or religion can be used as a weapon to fuel the terror of those that do not care to think for themselves.

    • http://feministing.com/members/wessiewa/ Wess

      Leah, regarding your first paragraph: I do not know enough about this and need to know more. Can someone please link me to some reading material on this?

  • http://feministing.com/members/ittefaaq/ ittefaaq

    No, this bill was the last straw for me. I will not be voting for Obama anymore. I will still support D candidates over R wherever it matters, but I do hope Obama loses this election. It was easier to get progressives worked up over Bush and get them to protest his actions, but the relentless proObama arguments like this is what makes his soft fascism so hard to overcome.

    • http://feministing.com/members/gibby/ Nina

      Right on.

  • http://feministing.com/members/wessiewa/ Wess

    Thank you, everybody, for this! I just became a member and I’m SO glad. I’ve read a bunch of amazing posts that have pushed my thinking on gender, sex and sexuality–and that would be amazing enough–but fantastic feminism aside, THIS is so helpful for me!

    Thank you ALL for being the only source I’ve found so far of real, thorough explanations of the White House world and thoughtful political debate. I’m a former politics-phobe, so it means a lot that I can learn so much in one place.

  • http://feministing.com/members/thenderson/ Tasasha Henderson

    Thank you Zerlina for writing this. I didn’t know that the NDAA bill was the actual military budget and included provisions to protect rape victims. You make a good point about how we need to vote for Congress members that will not author legislation that seeks to detain American citizens without due process. It seems we sometimes forgets that the President does not create legislation, Congress does. President Obama could have vetoed the bill, but like you said, Congress would have overrid his vote anyway. This reminds of post that I read on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog where he states (paraphrasing) “he’s a savior until he meets Congress.” But Nazaa also makes a good point; for those of us who are against the military industrial complex and war, the fact that this legislation funds the military does not doesn’t make the passing of it any easier to swallow, even though it is good that military members and their families are being paid.

  • http://feministing.com/members/malaise/ Malaise

    As others above have said, I think you give Obama far too much credit by presuming/pretending he is opposed to a strong executive authority with the power to indefinitely detain people without trial or worse. Whether assassinating US citizens, or imprisoning people merely on suspicion with no chance to appeal, Obama is definitely expanding the iron fist of the state, and his views on Internet censorship don’t please me either.

    It may be hard to be an enthusiastic Ron Paul supporter given some of his abhorrent stances, but at least I’m convinced that he would get these basic freedom issues right, which Obama has gotten so very wrong. Paul’s unlikely to win the nomination anyway, though, leaving us with an incredibly unappealing set of choices.

    Adlai Stevenson 2012!

  • http://feministing.com/members/rich/ rich

    Excuse me for being a bit [redacted], but presumably if a service woman is raped – then the rapist goes to jail and she wouldn’t have to face him/her on the base everyday or are the services exempt from rape charges in the US…..? So that sounds like a [redacted] excuse. What your President has done is sign the modern equivalent of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State 1933 – otherwise known as the Reichstag Fire decree – it is remarkably similar and bought in by the Nazi’s for the same reasons – to control terrorism in the homeland…….be scared my American cousins….

    • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

      This seems to have an interesting assumption that all rapists are brought to justice (and jail)?

      Beyond that, I’m thankful for all the posters refuting such hyperboles as “soldiers won’t be able to eat” or that there was any nobility to Obama’s decision on this.

      (Though I’m not about to become a Ron Paul supporter by any stretch of the imagination.)