Obama Fights for Executive Authority to Detain Indefinitely

Obama Fights for Executive Authority to Detain Indefinitely September 19, 2012

Some of you may remember the controversy over the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which gave the executive branch the power to detain an American citizen indefinitely without charging them with any crime. President Obama did not veto the law, but he did issue a signing statement saying that he would not use such power:

Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

I and many others noted at the time that this was of little use. First, it only binds the president who issues it — and only until that same president decides it no longer does. Second, it is not binding on any future president. Since he claims to believe that section 1021 would violate “our most important traditions and values as a nation,” one would think that he would not defend the constitutionality of that law in court; one would be wrong. The DOJ did defend that section — unsuccessfully, as a federal court last week declared it unconstitutional because the definition of those who could be detained is too broad and open-ended.

“The statute at issue places the public at undue risk of having their speech chilled for the purported protection from al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ‘associated forces’ – i.e., ‘foreign terrorist organizations,’” Forrest wrote in her opinion. “The vagueness of Section 1021 does not allow the average citizen, or even the government itself, to understand with the type of definiteness to which our citizens are entitled, or what conduct comes within its scope.”

And now the Obama administration is going to appeal that decision, defending the validity of the same section of the law that his executive order declares to be so contrary to our values that he would never, ever use it. This is a bit of a pattern for Obama, actually. He’s done the same thing when it comes to the Freedom of Information Act and White House visitor logs. His administration has volunteered more information from those logs to the public, declaring its commitment to transparency, but continues to argue in court that the law doesn’t require that disclosure (and the argument they offer, the same one Bush offered, is patently ridiculous).

This is what I have been criticizing Obama for all along. He has done nothing but defend the vastly expanded executive power that he argued against before he was the one holding that power.

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