You won’t often find organizations as dissimilar as the Tenth Amendment Center, Demand Progress and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, along with Tea Party Republicans, liberal Democrats and libertarians, playing nicely together on the same playground.
Even more unusual – finding them all pulling together on the same team.
But detention provisions without due process written into sections 1021 and 1022 of the National Defense Authorization Act served as a shot across America’s bow, raising concern to an amazingly high level, bringing groups and individuals across the political spectrum together to battle what they view as an unconstitutional and dangerous federal power grab.
“We are a 1 million member progressive civil liberties organization, which means that our perspective is very much grounded in the left of center portion of the political spectrum, but this fight for due process, civil liberties and to extend habeas corpus in America has really brought us in close coalition with members all across the spectrum, from the Tea Party to the liberty community to progressive Democrats to Republicans,” Demand Progress program director David Moon said.
On Tuesday, TAC, BORDC and Demand Progress partnered to host a media conference call featuring state and local legislators from both sides of the political aisle. These lawmakers come from vastly different backgrounds and political perspective, but they have all joined the fight at the state and local level, seeking ways to block federal detention under the NDAA.
The Fairfax, Calif. town council recently passed a resolution condemning NDAA detention. Larry Bragman (G) represents a district in the small San Francisco Bay area community of 7,500 people. He says the council passed the resolution unanimously. And he seemed to channel James Madison opposing the Alien and Sedition Acts back in 1798 when he demanded action.
“I think anybody who takes the oath of office in this country as an elected official has got to do what they can do to reverse, oppose and resist this bill, and that’s what we’re doing in Fairfax,” he said.
Missouri Rep. Paul Curtman (R) shared his experience coming home after serving in the Marines for 10 years, realizing that under the definition of “potential terrorist” provided by Missouri state law enforcement officials and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he qualified simply by virtue of his status as a combat vet and his right-leaning political views. He said the vague language in the NDAA could conceivably spell trouble for dissenters of all stripes in the United States.
“The bill doesn’t say who gets to make these decisions, there’s a lot of definitions that are lacking, meanwhile the definition of terrorist continues to get vaguer, and vaguer, and vaguer. It’s kind of a dangerous time for people in America who might wind up disagreeing with the government,” he said.
In response, Curtman plans to sponsor the House version of SB819, which would prohibit the state of Missouri from cooperating with federal officials attempting to enforce NDAA sections 1021 or 1022.
Fellow Marine and Rhode Island State Rep. Dan Gordon (R) expressed similar uneasiness about language in the NDAA.
“When I first heard about this, it gave me great pause. I had to read those sections of the bill numerous times to ensure that I wasn’t mistaken in what I was seeing. And what it came down to was – I was correct,” he said. “There is no definition of the term belligerent and who gets to make that determination. That is a problem. It’s standard procedure to put those terms and definitions in there. It was not done in this case.”
In January, Gordon began drafting H7916, and he introduced the bill in March with 43 cosponsors. A pretty amazing feat considering that the Rhode Island House has just 10 Republicans, with the “opposition party” holding 65 seats.
Gordon said the bipartisan support really makes sense when taking an objective look at the danger posed by allowing the federal government to wield such undefined and expansive powers given in the NDAA.
“This is an issue that is of concern and should be terrifying to each and every single American, regardless of ideological, political stripe,” he said. “Once one of us loses our voice to speak, we’re all in jeopardy.”
Gordon said it ultimately came down to fidelity to his oath of office.
“When I took the oath of office, I swore, as I did when I served in the Marine Corps, that I would support the Constitutions, in this case of Rhode Island and the United States. And before one single constituent of mine is snatched up in the dead of night, without due process, under our laws, they’ll have to pry those documents from my cold dead hands.”
Bragman said the city of Fairfax prides itself on its self-sufficiency and local control. He pointed out that the NDAA continues a trend of federalizing local law enforcement, and he expressed concern about the potential threat to civil liberties and community autonomy. In fact, he says it’s already happening.
Bragman illustrated the danger, pointing out that regional law enforcement, organized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cracked down on the Occupy movement in Oakland. He also noted the uptick in federal raids on medical marijuana clinics operating in the Bay Area for years.
“That’s very disturbing to us, because Fairfax, for example, just had to pass a sales tax to support our local services, and certainly for the federal government to come in and now direct local law enforcement towards these sorts of non-specific goals under the National Defense Authorization Act is truly, truly chilling,” he said.
Bragman also noted that language in the NDAA doubles down on some of the worst civil liberty violations of the Bush years.
“It’s brought a lot of the most unsavory aspects of the Bush administration’s shredding of the Constitution out of the shadows and into enshrinement of law, because not only does it allow the designation of certain types of activity as being exempt from the Constitution, it also enshrines extraordinary rendition into law,” he said. “We must resist. We must oppose. We must reverse.”
Berkeley, Calif. city councilor Kriss Worthington said he feels like the detention provisions in the NDAA tarnish the image of the U.S.
“We who believe in liberty and justice for all, we really do believe in liberty and justice, and these drastic restrictions on liberty are not only legally unconstitutional, but they are morally r