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2011-12-19

Obama Prepares to Authorize Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens for First Time Since McCarthy Era–Glenn Greenwald on NDAA

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The $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress last week includes controversial provisions that could usher in a radical expansion of indefinite detention under the U.S. government by authorizing the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial. "Congress, with the Democrats in control of the Senate and a Democratic president, is about to enact into law the first bill that will say that the military and the United States government do have this power," says Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com blogger and constitutional law attorney. "It’s muddled whether it applies to U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, but it’s clearly indefinite detention, and there’s a very strong case to make that it includes U.S. citizens, as well, which, as we know, the Obama administration already claims anyway, and that’s what makes it so dangerous." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Glenn, I wanted to ask you about a not wholly unrelated issue, and that is the issue of the military authorization bill that President Obama threatened to veto if it continued to contain the provisions about the treatment of terrorism prisoners, people who could be picked up, Americans in the United States, without trial, without hearing, and held indefinitely. President Obama has dropped the veto threat, saying the changes have satisfied him. Your thoughts?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, let’s remember that under the status quo, because of the way that the Bush and Obama administrations have interpreted their own powers in the original 2001 authorization to use military force, they already claim, the executive branch does, the power to indefinitely detain people. That’s what’s happening right now at Guantánamo. It’s what’s happening at Bagram and several other facilities. And the Obama administration has vehemently defended this power to put people into prison without any trial or charges for as long as they want to keep them there. Additionally, they—the Obama administration claims the power to target even American citizens as enemy combatants, and not just to detain them indefinitely, but to kill them, as well. That’s what they did with Anwar al-Awlaki, far from any battlefield, based on this theory that they already have this power, even before this bill is passed.

But what this bill will do, and it will be signed into law now by President Obama, as you indicated, is that it will be the first time that the United States Congress has codified the power of indefinite detention into the law since the McCarthy era of the 1950s. The 1950 Congress passed a bill saying that communists and subversives could be imprisoned without a trial, without full due process, based on the allegation that they presented a national threat, an emergency, a threat to the national security of the United States. President Truman, knowing that the bill would—the veto would be overridden, nonetheless vetoed it and said that it made a mockery of the Bill of Rights. That law was repealed in 1971 with the Non-Detention Act, that said you cannot hold people in prison without charging them with a crime. The war on terror has eroded that principle, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, but Congress is now, with the Democrats in control of the Senate and a Democratic president, is about to enact into law the first bill that will say that the military and the United States government do have this power. It’s muddled whether it applies to U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, but it’s clearly indefinite detention, and there’s a very strong case to make that it includes U.S. citizens, as well, which, as we know, the Obama administration already claims anyway, and that’s what makes it so dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, I want to thank you for being with us, constitutional law attorney, political/legal blogger for Salon.com. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to Cairo, Egypt, to Democracy Now!'s Sharif Abdel Kouddous. Ten people killed in the wake of the parliamentary elections. We'll talk about the violence that took place this weekend. We’ll be back in 30 seconds.

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