The Scary Potential of the National Defense Authorization Act

Latest reports say the White House is no longer threatening to veto this bill, saying it is satisfied with the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Update below.

 The text message exchange went like this:

“I need something from home. Any luck?”

-          “Yes, I have it. Now what?”

“It’s at the place with the ‘Cash Advance’ sign.”

-          “Ok”

The two cars drove to the meeting place: The money exchange (with the “Cash Advance” sign) located in a strip mall. The BMW pulled in first, and the beat-up van pulled next to it a few minutes later. The driver rolled down her van window and held out a piece of paper. She was wearing a hijab and sunglasses; it was hard to determine her features. A dark-skinned, sharply dressed man with a beard and wearing sunglasses exited his BMW and walked over and took the paper from her.

They exchanged a few pleasantries, discussed their children (the two are married). She then rolled up her window and quickly drove away. He went inside the store and wired an undisclosed amount of money to a man in Istanbul, Turkey.

Three weeks prior to this exchange, a local FBI agent knocked on the door of the couple’s house. It was the second time an agent had stopped by in the past few months – both asking the same thing. A young man in Pakistan had listed the woman’s father-in-law as a reference on a visa application. Did they know anything about it? Nothing serious, the agents assured the couple, just investigating any young men trying to travel out of Pakistan.

In October, the couple had traveled to Istanbul with two of their children. It was here they met the man to whom the couple wired money to two months later.

A year and a half before that, the man traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for two weeks by himself. In fact, over the course of their 12 year marriage, the couple had traveled together and individually to  Hyderabad, India; Abbottabad, Pakistan;  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia; Toronto, Canada, Jamaica; St. Lucia, West Indies, London, England, and Cairo, Egypt.

The woman worked for numerous Islamic organizations and media outlets. She is deeply connected to numerous Muslim organizations in the world and has a long list of Muslim professional contacts around the globe.

Based on the evidence above, if the military wanted to detain this couple on suspected terrorist activities, they could do so indefinitely, as evidenced by the National Defense Authorization Act, which was recently passed by the Senate. It wouldn’t matter that the couple could produce logical, evidence-backed reasons for everything. As suspects, they could be held, without trial, for as long as the military wanted.

And that is simply frightening.

Are Logical Explanations Enough?

Of course I’m writing about myself and my husband. And everything I’ve detailed above is true. We traveled to Istanbul in October, because I was invited to attend the WISE conference, put on by the ASMA (American Society for Muslim Advancement) Society. While there, my husband and I bought Turkish tiles from an artist. We paid half of the bill in Istanbul, and last week we wired the rest of the payment to him, as the tiles had arrived at our home.

The trips? My husband did a two-week locum job as a pulmonologist at King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh. We performed our Hajj pilgrimage in 2005, which explains Makkah and Madinah. I visited Kuala Lumpur to attend the 2nd WISE conference a few years back. My husband attended his cousin’s wedding in England, and we’ve gone together to visit family in Hyderabad. I attended my brother’s wedding in Abbottabad. And, the trips to Abu Dhabi, Jamaica, the West Indies and Canada? Family and fun.

I am a journalist/editor, and I’ve covered Muslims in America for more than a decade and have worked for a variety of media outlets, and because of this work I’ve met with and am colleagues with a vast number of Muslims on the forefront of media, politics, advocacy, social work and charitable work.

My husband and my activities all have a logical reason. We are upstanding citizens of this country raising three kids here. We are engaged, active members of society. But if you look at our history of work and travel, you could really launch a sinister case against us.

Far-Reaching Implications of the NDAA

This is why the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act by the Senate is such an alarming development. Everyone is at risk now. As Andrew Rosenthal wrote in The New York Times, the NDAA includes a series of provisions that “mandate military interrogation and detention for any suspected member of Al Qaeda, and authorize indefinite detention of terrorist suspects without trial. (The law is written so broadly that parts of it could also cover U.S. citizens.)” The provisions were co-sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), and John McCain, (R-AZ) Republican of Arizona.

“Their excuse was that some Republicans had proposed worse rules. But the smart response to that situation would have been to block faulty legislation outright, not to make a really bad deal,” writes Rosenthal, adding that it’s a deal that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said was “hashed out behind closed doors without consultation with his committee, or the Intelligence Committee, or the Defense Department, the F.B.I. or the intelligence community.”

Rosenthal writes:

“These new policies would all but remove the F.B.I., federal prosecutors, and federal courts from the business of interrogating, charging and trying suspected terrorists. Never mind that they have a track record of doing just that, legally and in the open. Instead, it would put those functions in the hands of the military, which is not very good at it, and doesn’t want to do it.

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a very sensible amendment this week, with Mr. Leahy’s backing. It would have stripped the detainee measures out of the Defense Authorization Act. That proposal was defeated [last week], 61-37. The Pentagon, the intelligence community, the Justice Department and the White House oppose the detainee rules. The people who would have to carry out these boneheaded policies think they would actually weaken national security. Fortunately, President Obama has threatened to veto the Defense Authorization Act. Republicans, especially the gang competing for their party’s presidential nomination, will jump all over him if he does that.”

It’s simply frightening to think that our Senate passed provisions to the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow such power to the military. I mean the power to detain anyone – U.S. citizens included – indefinitely for a terrorism investigation, with trial – its mind boggling.

Wired’s Spencer Ackerman breaks down the NDAA, writing that “despite the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a right to trial, the Senate bill would let the government lock up any citizen it swears is a terrorist, without the burden of proving its case to an independent judge, and for the lifespan of an amorphous war that conceivably will never end. And because the Senate is using the bill that authorizes funding for the military as its vehicle for this dramatic constitutional claim, it’s pretty likely to pass.”

That President Obama initially said he would veto this bill if it comes before him is comforting, but not comforting enough. That the senate would see fit to pass the NDAA in its current form is indicative of an unprecedented disrespect for the rights afforded to American citizens by the Constitution of this country as well as to the very foundations of the United States.

The debates in the House and Senate aren’t over yet. Josh Gerstein reported in Politico this week that “a House-Senate conference committee announced a revised version of the National Defense Authorization Act that lawmakers said addressed many of the concerns that led White House officials to threaten a veto.”

With revised versions of the NDAA being debated, the White House has been mute about whether the changes to the bill are enough to win Obama’s signature or whether he plans to carry through with the veto threat, Gerstein reported. Still, that doesn’t lessen my concern about where this is taking us, and what has already happened.

FBI agents at my door, potential scrutiny over my every move with the threat of indefinite detainment — this is what it’s like to be Muslim in America? My husband is a reputable physician, a good son, husband and father. I’m a hard-working mom raising three children, especially worrying night and day about the needs of her autistic eldest son. I swear, there’s nothing more going on then that.

UPDATE: The New York Times reported late yesterday that the White House is no longer threatening to veto the NDAA, saying it is satisfied with the latest version that have been passed by the House and Senate. Did you year that folks? The White House will no longer veto.

Charles Savage reported:

The administration had threatened to veto versions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 passed by the House and the Senate, arguing that provisions would open the door for the military to perform policing functions inside the United States, and that they would infringe on executive branch powers.

But the White House said in a statement that adjustments made by a House-Senate conference committee had sufficiently addressed its concerns.

“As a result of these changes, we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the president’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the president’s senior advisors will not recommend a veto,” it said.

So while the White House is now ok with the bill, given that its executive branch powers are now protected from infringement by military investigation tactices, the glaring civil liberties issue still remains in the bill, as reported by the New York Times:

“… The bill includes a narrower provision, drafted by the Senate, authorizing the government to detain, without trial, suspected members of Al Qaeda or its allies — or those who “substantially supported” them — bolstering the authorization it enacted a decade ago against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Another section would require officials to hold noncitizens suspected of being Qaeda operatives in military custody. The administration had focused its objections on that section, but the panel expanded the executive branch’s ability to make exceptions.”

So let’s get this straight: No longer is there the slim protection that the White House will veto the National Defense Authorization Act. Any person, citizen or otherwise, can be detained, indefinately, without trial, if they are suspected by the government to be a member of al Qaeda or its allies. I think that it would be difficult to find any American who does not support the United States protecting itself against terrorism. But at what cost? At the cost of our civil liberities? At the cost of rights afforded to Americans by the very constitution of this country?

On Wednesday, the House approved the bill, 283 to 136; now it goes to the Senate, and they will pass it. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, God or no God – you should be appalled and afraid, just as I am. Raise. Your. Voice.

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