Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More on NDAA and indefinite detention

While I'm not a legal scholar by any means, I've read a lot of the reaction to the clauses in NDAA (the Defense Department's appropriation bill) that deal with the military and indefinite detention. Overall I'd say that one of the best summaries I've read so far comes today from Winning Progressive. The article does a good job of detailing where the very real problems arise as well as the over-reaction of some. It ends with a warning - not about how this will be implemented in an Obama administration - but asks us to think about how comfortable we would be with these provisions under a Republican administration. I think that's a fair question.

But what the author misses about this bill is a phrase that goes mostly unnoticed by too many critics..."until the end of the hostilities authorized by the” AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress after 9/11).

In an attempt to understand these provisions - I would suggest that they are not violations of civil liberties during a time of war. Soldiers captured on any battlefield would be detained indefinitely until the war has ended. As I've said before - the real problem came when the country as a whole accepted the idea of an ongoing "Global War on Terror" as the basic understanding of the AUMF.

And so I would remind everyone what Obama did almost immediately when he became President.

President Barack Obama is replacing the "global war on terror" with a new strategy more narrowly focused on Al-Qaeda and relying more on a broader effort to engage the Muslim world, a top aide said Thursday.

Perhaps you'll remember how the rightwing reacted to this change in rhetoric from the administration - it wasn't pretty. But anyone who has listened to President Obama over the years will recognize that his focus has been on defeating Al Qaeda - not some amorphous war on terror.

Knowing this, I can't help but speculate that when the U.S. finally leaves Afghanistan - President Obama might try to find a way to put an official end to the AUMF provisions (and the resulting NDAA items) once and for all. Our country will need to do that at some point - even though it will be difficult for any politician to pull it off. I also suspect that the current negotiations between the US, Afghanistan and the Taliban are part of working towards that goal.

If progressives truly wanted to be pragmatic in understanding what's going on here and the extremely difficult politics involved, what we would be fighting for is an end to not just the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but to this silly notion of an endless war on terror. Doing so is going to require some heavy political lifting and we'll need to show the President and other Democrats that we're up to the task and have their backs when the time comes to officially do so.


  1. I've been thinking much the same thing over the last few weeks. One question I have is just who has the authority to *end* this war that started on 9/11? Could Obama just issue an Executive Order saying it is over?

    Of course he'd have to establish the ground for such an order to have legitimacy, but it looks like he is doing just that.

  2. Chris

    I'm so happy to hear that I'm not the only one thinking about this. Have you seen anyone else writing about it? If you ever do - please let me know.

    I have no idea about who could "end" this. But what I'm envisioning is that perhaps they're working towards some kind of signed agreement with Afghanistan, the Taliban and the US to coincide with our exit from Afghanistan. IF that can be pulled off (whopping IF) - it might be a "moment" when the possibility is there.

    I also suspect that some of the changes in our relationship with Pakistan over the last couple of weeks might be involved.

  3. We can hope (as per Obama's campaign slogan).

    I am reminded of the ramp up to the repeal of DADT. lgbt activists were screaming bloody murder that Obama was trying to block said repeal, yet his approach of building things to the point where repeal was the inevitable result not only got rid of the law it did so in a way that will make it *very* hard to ever bring it back.

    If Obama really wants to close the book on the AUMF then he will need to be just as cautious in his approach. And he will need another term to do it.

    That right there is probably the single most important reason why anti-war progressives need to re-elect Obama.


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