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Legalese is Not Fun to Read

The National Defense Authorization Act is a federal law that specifies the budget of the United States Department of Defense each year. In the past few days it caught my attention because, allegedly, it would give the president the power to imprison without trial civilians anywhere in the world, including the United States.

The bill is S.1867 and the sections in question are 1031 and 1032 under Subtitle D.

Section 1031 affirms that the president has the authority to detain “covered persons” and defines “covered persons” as anyone involved in the September 11th attacks, part of or supported by al-Qaeda, the Taliban, etc. Then it describes the possible disposition of those detained. These include detention without trial until the end of hostilities, military trial, transfer for trial, and transfer to a foreign country.

Section 1032 says that those who are detained under section 1031 are required to be in military custody until their disposition. Subsection (b) notes: “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.”

Reading these sections carefully, I believe that the concerns are valid. Section 1031 allows the government to imprison anyone, including United States citizens, claiming they are terrorists or associated with terrorists. They may then be held in “Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities . . .” They do not need to prove their case, just accuse.

Section 1032 gives the appearance that United States citizens would be exempt, but all it really says is that they're not required to be detained in military custody. In other words, it is discretionary. It is not explicitly prohibited.

I am not surprised by this, sadly. It has already happened without this legislation. See: José Padilla. He was held without charge for three and a half years before being released to civilian courts. He was then convicted of criminal conspiracy charges. He was never charged or convicted for the “dirty bomb” plot he was detained all those years for.

There was an amendment that would have curtailed these sections, but it was shot down today. Rand Paul introduced an amendment to simply strike Section 1031, but it is unlikely that will be met with any more approval in the Senate.

If this concerns you, I would recommend researching it further and contacting your senators (quickly).

See also:

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