Saturday, August 25, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 6

Update on: NDAA and "indefinite detention"

Back around the beginning of the year, I warned you about the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act. "Warned" because it includes a particular provision - Section 1022 - that would allow the government to have the military imprison people indefinitely, without trial or even charge, based solely on the president's decision that you are a suspected terrorist or are "substantially supporting" some terrorist or "associated" group. This would even include US citizens seized on US soil.

Later on, I reported that on May 16, Federal Judge Katherine Forrest found that the law is unconstitutional and violates rights to both free speech and due process.

She did so, as I said at the time, after a Kafka-esque hearing in which lawyers for the government repeatedly refused to explain what the law's impossibly vague terms like "associated forces" and "substantial support" actually mean.

Instead, the government tried to argue that the seven plaintiffs did not have "standing" to sue. That is, they couldn't sue because the law hadn't affected them, that is, they hadn't be indefinitely detained. Which means that by the government's argument, the only folks with standing to sue are those already beyond the reach of judicial system. Catch-22 mean anything?

In issuing her ruling, Judge Forrest said she was worried by the government's reluctance to say whether examples of the plaintiffs' activities that they cited - such as aiding WikiLeaks - would fall under the scope of the provision.

Well, the feds have gone back to court, where they filed an appeal of Judge Forrest's ruling with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Hilariously, despite its failure to be able even to define basic terms of the law, the government is arguing in its appeal that the law is neither too broad nor too vague.

But here's something worth noting: The appeal argues that the plaintiffs, who include among others academics, activists, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and a member of the Icelandic parliament,
cannot point to a single example of the military's detaining anyone for engaging in conduct even remotely similar to the type of expressive activities they allege could lead to detention.
Fine! Good! Then say so, say in court, on the record, that those sorts of activities are not covered by the law. Say on the record that there is no legal reason to be concerned. Say on the record "that's not what we meant, that's not what the law means." Just say that.

But the fact is, they won't. They want the law broad, they want it vague, they want to use as broad a brush as possible. They want this law, they want it in place, they want it in force, and they want it with no legal or constitutional restrictions on its reach.

We are in danger of becoming - we are already becoming - what I call a "soft" police state. I do not use the term "police state" lightly. By "soft" police state, I mean that we still have elections, we still have campaigns, we still have all the outward trappings of democracy. There is free speech, at least a form of it, there are what at least appear to be debates, there are newspapers and magazines, there is the internet.

But ultimately all of that is allowed, all of that is tolerated, because dissent is ineffective. Because all these outward appearances of democracy, of human rights, do not affect the positions and perks of the powerful. Because instead of being a means of change, our petitions and protests and political campaigns are becoming more and more just a way to blow off steam, a way to give us the feeling of having a role, a place, a voice, without our actually having one. Cross the line, actually impact the system, and the hammer comes down.

That's why Occupy Wall Street was so threatening to our power elites: It was having an impact. It was getting people talking about things like income inequality, about the power of the 1%. People were responding to this to the point where politicians and the media actually had to respond to it as well. That's why the encampments were hit with a wave of coordinated attacks across the country, all following the same plan, all using the same tactics, all making the same bogus charges. It was because the Occupy movement could not be ignored and so had to be shut down.

Now, make no mistake: Occupy Wall Street is not dead and there are still actions, often types of guerrilla theater, occurring around the country. But the movement was damaged, severely damaged, by the attacks, no doubt about it, and, more importantly to the power elite, the movement has been driven back to the fringes, that is, it exists largely as a series of individual, isolated local stories rather than as a national one.

So the result is that the power elite could go back to making its money and as a political issue, getting us to talk about what it really wants to talk about, which is the deficit and why it means we should cut taxes - I didn't say the argument made sense - and destroy social security and other social programs. This week's Outrage of the Week has more.


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