PANDA NDAA Civil Liberties Watch

Back in February of 2013 I had the opportunity to sit down with my Congressman, Dr. Joe Heck, and discuss my concerns with the indefinite detention provisions of the 2012 NDAA. At the time, he adamantly insisted that these provisions did not cover United States citizens and that my concerns were not valid, a message he had consistently been giving local Nevadan constituents. While we politely agreed to disagree after looking over the language of the provisions together, he did concede to me that the language was ambiguous and he pledged to me that he would personally make it a point to clarify this language, as he is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. A little over a year later, he honored that pledge and offered an amendment to the 2015 NDAA.

While I take great discord with many of the recent votes from Representative Heck regarding NSA spying and police militarization, and I still respect his effort to amend and clarify the 2012 NDAA, this language in no way meets the bar necessary to actually defend our rights.

There are two issues with this amendment:

 1.     It only covers American citizens.

The word “citizen” comes from the Anglo-French word citizein, or “inhabitant of a city.” That is, a city must exist in order for there to be a citizen. Later in time, this was understood to mean “inhabitant of a country,” but the word always required that a government/city/country existed.

If rights are only for citizens, they cannot exist without government…because citizens do not exist without government. What government granteth, it can taketh away.

This is why our founders never put the word “citizen” into the Bill of Rights. They understood that our rights do not come from government, and are therefore given to every person…regardless of citizenship.

Congressman Heck seems to think our rights come from government, and until this amendment is changed to align with the Constitution it will not truly defend our rights.

2.     It only removes Congressional assent from the President’s power…it does not prohibit the President from doing anything.

Congressman Heck’s amendment rightly targets the two times Congress has agreed to the President’s claims that he can indefinitely detain, without charge or trial, any person he deems a threat, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force under the Bush Administration and the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the Obama Administration.

However, both administrations have claimed they do not need Congress’s permission to execute or detain American citizens and people on U.S. soil without charge or trial. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration argued it had such authority under Article II of the Constitution. Just last month, a Deputy Legal Adviser to the State Department argued the same on behalf of this Administration.

If any amendment to the 2012 NDAA is to actually protect our rights, it must actively prohibit the President from using that power under any authority, law, executive order, or otherwise. Until then, they are merely placebos, providing a false sense of security to the American people and upholding the status quo.

Finally, Congressman Heck is a powerful member of the House Armed Service Committee, and yet this amendment failed without as much as a whimper from the Congressman.

This amendment does not stand the true test of protecting our rights, and it appears my Congressman had good intentions, but not enough passion to see it through.

It does leave me wondering though, why so many amendments like this one are so often offered and yet just as quickly stripped each year. Why and how are these amendments, even those that do not truly protect our rights, so easily thwarted?

Each time an amendment to clarify that any person cannot and will not be detained by our armed forces is stripped, I am only reminded why we must continue to push and pressure at our local levels, and continue to educate those in our communities. I hope you will join us.

You can contact the Nevada Republican Party about Mr. Heck (The Nevada GOP passed a resolution this year urging their reps to actually fix the NDAA) at:

Daphne Lee is the PANDA Nevada State Director, and a full-time soccer mom.