Commentary: A Dark Cloud Looms Over Our Democracy

The problem with the National Defense Authorization Act.

Posted: 01/06/2012 03:47 PM EST

While many of us were busy recovering from holiday festivities, a dark and ominous cloud quietly crept over our democracy. On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. The $662 billion bill is designed to give the U.S. government the legal means to combat terrorists such as Al Qaeda domestically.

 

While I agree that we need to protect our nation, some of the measures included in the new law chip away at the democratic rights of detained Americans who still should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

 

The NDAA along with its Homeland Battlefield provision grants the military sweeping authority to transfer terrorist suspects from civilian jail to military custody. Under military jurisdiction, terrorist suspects can be detained indefinitely and interrogated intensely. Under the NDAA, anybody in the U.S. considered a threat to national security can be declared a “terrorist” and may be subjected to hours, even days of inhumane interrogation. They could also be tried in a military tribunal where basic civil rights we value as U.S. citizens are thrown out the window in the interest of national security.

 

Many legal experts (including the president, who publically expressed “serious reservations” about signing the bill) are concerned that this vaguely written bill gives the military sweeping authority to violate U.S. citizens’ civil rights.

 

Recall that J. Edgar Hoover declared Martin Luther King Jr. and the entire leadership of the civil rights movement a “threat to national security.” Under Hoover’s direction, the FBI used every means at its disposal to smear King as a communist and totally disrupt the movement. The same tactic was used against the Black Panther Party, the American Indian movement and the anti-war movement.

 

Currently the FBI is trying to have animal-rights activists who videotape companies mistreating animals declared domestic terrorists. With the passage of the NDAA, peaceful protesters like the ones who make up the Occupy Wall Street movement can be declared terrorists and detained indefinitely. Or, even worse, you could be arrested for being a member and participating in a peaceful protest of a civic organization such as the NAACP. Surely there is a better way to combat terrorism without compromising our democratic values.

 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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(Photo: EPA/JIM LO SCALZO/Landov)

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