Why the hell did Obama push for indefinite detention of US citizens?

Zerlina’s read of why President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with the indefinite detention provision included is an accurate take on how the bill works and how it moved through government. But with all due respect I think she missed the administration’s doublespeak when it comes to intent. The signing statement is designed to distance Obama as candidate for re-election from the action he and the Congress actually took – making it possible to detain US citizens without due process. Actions matter way more than words in politics, because they actually, you know, do something in people’s lives.

In fact, the Obama administration is responsible for the bill allowing for the detention of US citizens. Take a look at this video, from about the 2:30-3:30 mark, where Sen. Carl Levin explains on the Senate floor that the White House asked that this remain in the bill:

[The administration] asked us to remove the language which says US citizens in lawful residence would not be subject to this section. Is the Senator familiar with the fact that it was the administration that asked us to remove the very language which we had in the bill which passed the committee, and that we removed it at the request of the administration, that said this determination would not apply to US citizens in lawful residence.

Yep. President Obama is attempting to publicly distance himself from a provision he made sure stayed in the bill.

Oh, and the signing statement is, besides the specific comment about US citizens, actually an argument for expanded and barely checked authority of the executive branch. Obama essentially argues he shouldn’t be limited in prosecuting wars, in spite of the pesky issue of laws.

Look, I’m a huge wonk. But outside of looking at this issue through the detail-oriented wonk lens of who-said-or-signed-or-did-what, perhaps we should simply be using the lens of moral human being. I mean, just look at the fact that the NDAA is a must pass bill, meaning the US must have a funded war state.

Due process, the idea that the state must respect people’s legal rights, is one of the bedrock concepts on which the US was founded. During the Bush years, civil liberties arguments abounded as we watched the federal government shred this right. What disturbs me most about the Obama administration’s attack on civil liberties is the way they’ve gotten away with it. Folks who would typically be advocates for civil liberties are hanging out in the Obama camp, sacrificing their issue. The result has been an administration that’s proved lethal to civil liberties.

Then there’s the fact we’re having a conversation about the indefinite detention of US citizens. By focusing on citizens, the framing of the debate implies that detention of non-citizens without due process is OK. I have long been disturbed by the linking of citizenship and rights that has always been a part of the US approach to civil liberties, to varying degrees. We understand rights as human rights, as something humans have. Which makes their linking to national membership deeply troubling.

So I am just as outraged by the detention of non-citizens without due process. Allowing for the detention of citizens is a major step, though, because it means even membership does not necessarily come with rights.

To allow the executive branch to imprison people at will is unconscionable and inexcusable, regardless of political party. For many, politics is about whether there’s a D or R next to someone’s name. I care way more about the actions an elected official actually takes. This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue of a wholly corrupt federal government, D and R and Independent too. This Democratic administration has shred civil liberties, and they’ve used the D to get away with it.

No, I’m not saying I’m going to go support Ron Paul, who is despicable in many other ways. But I cannot cross the moral line of supporting a president who pushes for indefinite detention. There are no excuses. The Obama administration advocated for detention of US citizens and for the massive expansion of executive war powers. As a US citizen and registered voter I feel a moral imperative to stand against this great wrong.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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