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Trading freedom for security

October 10, 2011

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” – Benjamin Franklin

While I have held this truth to be self-evident, it appears that it isn’t. At least not to the American Congress. The National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA) calls for the indefinite military detention of terrorism suspects. According to Human Rights First, the bill would, in effect, make the military the judge, juror, and jailer of all terrorism suspects.The NDAA would also restrict the transfer of Guantanamo detainees, even those who have been cleared of any wrongdoing.These measures are of course legally and ethically suspect, to say the least.  They are also counter-productive when it comes to fighting terrorism.

“Holding someone in prison without trial on mere suspicion is un-American and legally problematic.  Our criminal justice system is the only reliable process for incapacitating terrorists, and has provided safe, credible prosecutions of over 400 individuals for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11,” Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn said in June.

Luckily, quite a few brave congressmen see the value of keeping their homeland relatively free. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to block the controversial bill. The bill is now sent back to Senators Levin and McCain, chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for reconsideration.

Neither I, Human Rights First nor Harry Reid find the bill worth considering at all. Building an ever more authoritarian society will not help protecting neither the freedom nor safety of American citizens. You cannot fight terrorism by adopting the very standards and values of terrorists. And the U.S. should never give up essential liberty to obtain a false sense of safety.

“Militarizing our law enforcement will undermine our security as allies will be highly reluctant to turn over terror suspects to the U.S. when we cannot guarantee a fair process,” Osburn said.

Please make these important truths evident to Senators Levin and McCain. Urge them to strip the  NDAA of provisions that allow for the military to detain terrorism suspects – including U.S. citizens apprehended in the United States – indefinitely without charge.

UPDATE: On 15. December – the Bill of Rights Day – the US Senate decided to rob the American people of some of their most important rights. By passing the NDAA, the senate effectively takes away the rights to due process and civil trial by jury. President Barack Obama has abandoned his commitment to vetoing the bill, and Americans now risk being arrested as terrorists on home soil and held indefinitely by the military without trial. It seems like Bill of Rights Day just became the Day of No Rights…

UPDATE 2: According to the Washington Post, House and Senate negotiators have watered down some of the most extreme measures  in earlier drafts of the NDAA. The bill now no longer makes military detention mandatory for U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism activities. However, the bill still authorizes the U.S. to indefinitely detain pretty much anyone else without charge or trial, and requires foreign terrorism suspects to be held in military custody.

In the words of Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at ACLU:

“It was an awful bill before and it is an awful bill now”

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