Ron Paul took a day off from the campaign trail on Wednesday, not to pause from politics, but to urge his colleagues on Capitol Hill to overturn the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that allows indefinite detention for Americans.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, or the NDAA, was inked by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve, despite immense opposition from Americans who were concerned by vague language that could allow the commander-in-chief to use military forces to domestically police the United States. Under Section 1021 of the NDAA, any person, US citizen or not, can be held without trial by American armed forces if they are suspected of being engaged in hostilities against the country by al-Qaeda or associated forces.
Opponents of the act — and there are many — have questioned the language of the specific section, as it could be written to allow the president to enforce the law to imprison anyone suspected of any crime that could be considered by the right person in office to be an act of terror. President Obama said that he would not abide by this rule, but despite a signing statement that his administration won’t act in that manner, it does not mean that the promise will be upheld.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero called Obama’s approval of the legislation is "a blight on his legacy," insisting that “he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” and the Council on American-Islamic Relations called the bill an “ill-conceived and un-American legislation” that will “forever be seen as a stain on our nation’s history — one that will ultimately be viewed with embarrassment and shame.” Additionally, this week RT reported that noted journalist Chris Hedges has filed a lawsuit against the White House over the legislation, questioning the legality of the authorization and calling it “a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.”
On Wednesday this week, however, Ron Paul spoke from Capitol Hill, not South Carolina where the rest of his Republican Party rivals were campaigning before the state’s primary scheduled for this weekend. While in Washington to vote against raising the debt ceiling, Congressman Ron Paul also used the opportunity to go after Obama for signing the NDAA and offered a proposal that, if passed, would strike Section 1031 off the Act.
The move makes Paul not just the first frontrunner in the race for the GOP nomination to speak out against the act, but the first congressman to openly offer a solution to the legislation since it was authorized into law.
Paul began his address on Wednesday by noting that the National Defense Authorization Act was “quietly signed into law by the president on New Year’s Day,” sarcastically saluting it by adding, “and what a way to usher in a New Year.”
“Section 1021 provides for the possibility of the US military acting as a kind of police force on US soil, apprehending terror suspects – including Americans — and whisking them off to an undisclosed location indefinitely,” said Paul.
“No right to attorney, no right to trial, no day in court.”
While GOP contender Mitt Romney said during a debate from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina last week that he would have also authorized such legislation, Congressman Paul went over his time limit on stage in urging Americans to pay attention to the dangerous provisions included in the Act. In front of the debate crowd, Paul told the US not to lose faith in the country’s judicial system. From Washington only a week later, Congressman Paul asked his peers to think about America’s past once more, asking, “Have we not tried in civilian court and won convictions of hundreds of individuals for terrorist or related activities?” He added to his fellow legislature that this transformation away from a country founded on the ideals of the Constitution would soon lead America on the road to a place no one would wish it goes.
“This is precisely the kind of egregious distortion of justice that Americans have always ridiculed in so many dictatorships overseas,” said Paul, comparing it to the gulag system of the Soviet Union.
“Is this really the kind of United States we want to create in the name of fighting terrorism?” asked the congressman from Texas.
“Some have argued that nothing in Section 1021 explicitly mandates holding Americans without trial, but it employs vague language radically expanding the detention authority to include anyone who has ‘substantially supported’ certain terrorist groups or ‘associated forces,’” said Paul. “No one has defined what those two terms mean. What is an ‘associated force’?” he asked.
In a statement explaining his lawsuit against the president, Chris Hedges addressed the same concern earlier this week, calling into question the countless conversations he has had with people that the US government has labeled as terrorists. As a foreign correspondent, Hedges says, he met regularly with leaders from groups such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Revolutionary Guard in Iran.
“What would this bill have meant if it had been in place when I and other Americans traveled in the 1980s with armed units of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas in El Salvador? What would it have meant for those of us who were with the southern insurgents during the civil war in Yemen or the rebels in the southern Sudan?” asked Hedges. “I have had dinner more times than I can count with people whom this country brands as terrorists. But that does not make me one.”
While Hedges attacked Obama in drafting his explanation of the lawsuit, Paul spoke from the Capitol that his own peers in Congress are just as responsible for crafting the NDAA and corrupting others lawmakers into signing it, even as they themselves openly acknowledged the dangers of the act.
“Sadly, too many of my colleagues are too willing to undermine our Constitution to support such outrageous legislation,” said Paul. “One senator even said about American citizens picked up under this section of the NDAA, ‘When they say, “I want my lawyer,” you tell them, “Shut up. You don't get a lawyer.”’ Is this acceptable in someone one who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution?” he asked. The congressman in question was Senator Lindsay Graham, who did indeed have such vile words in encouraging others to sign the Act. “For those American citizens thinking about helping al-Qaeda, please know what will come your way: death; detention; prosecution,” explained Senator Graham while the Act was originally up for discussion.
Sadly, prosecution could very well be the last step in an instance where an American is imprisoned under the NDAA. In Section 1031, citizens can indeed be held indefinitely, and as we’ve learned with the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that term of detainment could easily extend a decade, if not longer, without a trial ever being ordered. Over 170 prisoners are still held at Gitmo, including some that have been there without charge since the US began installing suspected war criminals there more than ten years ago. Under Section 1031, your neighbor, uncle or yourself could be the next person to don an orange jumpsuit and Ron Paul recognized how detrimental this is to American liberty.
In his closing remarks Wednesday, Paul explained that he was without a doubt opposed to acts of terrorism. “I recognize how critical it is that we identify and apprehend those who are suspected of plotting attacks against Americans. But why do we have so little faith in our justice system?” he asked.
Paul added that he wished to continue going after terrorists, but said, “let us not abandon what is so unique and special about our system of government in the process.”
“I hope my colleagues will join my effort to overturn the shameful Section 1021,” concluded the congressman.