Military Internment in America: Don't Let It Happen

Congress votes on unleashing U.S. forces on U.S. citizens.

"Certainly, let's bring our soldiers home. But not so they can round us up and lock us away." (Photo: Mohammed Ameen/Reuters)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

UPDATE: The Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act late Thursday. Section 1031 was included, with an amendment that blurs the powers over U.S. citizens and residents granted to the military. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.


The United States Senate is poised to push America one step closer to being a country with a military empowered to seize citizens and incarcerate them for life—with no access to an attorney and no criminal charges being filed. Many nations throughout history have benefited from similar policy: Pinochet’s Chile, Mao’s China, Stalin’s Russia.

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, drafted by senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), is a sprawling $662 billion defense-spending bill that has been metastasizing in the Senate for weeks. The bill budgets for 2012 spending on military personnel, weapons and other costs of doing war.

Aside from doling out taxpayer dollars, the National Defense Authorization Act carries dozens of amendments that senators toss onto the bill like tinsel onto a holiday tree. Language added to the 2012 NDAA requires pressure on Pakistan to defuse improvised explosive devices, a plan to accelerate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and efforts to corral Libya’s wandering stockpile of 20,000 portable anti-aircraft missiles. There is also sonorous, self-important talk of adding a measure to tighten sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank in response to fears that Tehran is building a nuclear weapon.

A civilian could be grabbed from a breakfast nook in Pasadena, hustled through a closed hearing where a soldier asserts suspicions of terrorism, and then locked away for life in some Saudi rat hole, awaiting the chance to mount a defense against charges that never come.

These measures go on for quite some time, reflecting and amplifying the anxieties of a nation currently fielding at least two undeclared wars. Deep into the boilerplate, the reading becomes more wearying than worrisome.

Then comes Section 1031, a provision that grants the United States military powers of “worldwide detention without charge or trial” against suspected terrorists.

Chris Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)—predictably—takes a dim view of Section 1031.

“The Senate vote will give this president—and every future president—the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world. Even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military, and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself.”

Less predictably, the ACLU’s concerns were echoed, on the record, by a Republican United States senator, Rand Paul from Kentucky.

“I’m very, very concerned about having U.S. citizens sent to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite detention,” said Senator Paul.

Paul contends that, under the provision, a civilian could be grabbed from a breakfast nook in Pasadena, hustled through a closed hearing where a soldier asserts suspicions of terrorism, and then locked away for life in some Saudi Arabian rat hole, awaiting the chance to mount a defense against charges that never come.

“It’s not enough just to be alleged to be a terrorist,” said the senator. “That’s part of what due process is. It’s important that we not allow U.S. citizens to be taken.”

Have the ACLU’s Anders and the GOP’s Paul overstated the severity of Section 1031?

“The statement of authority to detain does apply to American citizens,” clarified Senator Lindsay Graham, one of the bill’s sponsors, “and it designates the world as the battlefield, including the homeland. They should not be read their Miranda Rights. They should not be given a lawyer.”

The Department of Homeland Security is the point team for ferreting out the terrorists among us. Suspected terrorists, by Homeland Security standards, are people who buy gold, own guns, use a watch or binoculars, donate to charity, collect information via email or cell phone or use cash.

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has boasted that, as boss of the New York Police Department, he effectively is commander of the world’s sixth largest army. In Los Angeles, 1,400 specially trained police officers were deployed to disperse a few hundred peaceful campers. The U.C. Davis campus police donned the armor of Star Wars storm troopers to diffuse the threat posed by a few dozen middle-class college students sitting in the sun. Domestic police enforcement has been militarized to such an extent that it is easy to imagine scenarios where the unchecked powers granted in Section 1031 of the National Defense Authorization Act might be abused.

The ACLU is alarmed. It encourages any American who values the concept of individual liberty, and its actuality, to be alarmed as well. Furthermore, the ACLU makes it easy to share that alarm with the United States Senate.

Click here and add your voice—unless you’re afraid of being marked down as a suspected terrorist.

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