The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 11, 2012

Defense bill draws foes

COLUMBUS, Kan. — The Cherokee County Commission may weigh in on the debate about the 2012 National Defense Reauthorization Act.

The measure, which passed 93-7 in the U.S. Senate and 283-136 in the U.S. House of Representatives, includes provisions that allow the U.S. military to indefinitely detain without charge or trial American citizens and legal residents suspected of terrorism.

President Barack Obama signed the bill on Dec. 31, despite what he said were “serious reservations.”

As early as Monday, commissioners in Cherokee County may vote on a resolution condemning sections of the NDAA as a violation of several provisions in the U.S. Constitution, including: the right to seek writ of habeas corpus in Article 1; the right in the Fifth and 14th Amendments to be free from deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process; the Sixth Amendment right to speedy trial before a jury and the right to counsel; and the Eighth Amendment right to be free from excessive bail and fines and cruel and unusual punishment.

The proposed resolution notes that the military policing of citizens “is repugnant to a free society.”

Commissioner Richard Hilderbrand proposed the measure on Monday, giving a copy of a draft resolution to County Counselor Kevin Cure to review before Monday’s meeting.

In proposing the resolution, Hilderbrand said all citizens are entitled to the fundamental right of due process before being detained.

‘You don’t get a lawyer’

“My administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” Obama wrote in his signing statement, though future presidents would have authority do so.

The controversial provisions were promoted by U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., as necessary.

“To those American citizens thinking about helping al-Qaida, please note what will come your way: death; detention; prosecution,” Graham said on the Senate floor, though the act doesn’t require prosecution.

Graham also remarked in the Senate: “When they say ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them ‘Shut up, you don’t get a lawyer!’”

The Rhode Island Liberty Coalition provided the draft resolution that the Cherokee County Commission is using. The group describes itself as an organization “dedicated to the preservation of civil liberties, economic liberties and the inherent autonomy of the individual.”

Its spokesman, attorney Blake Filippi, said state legislatures in Washington, Rhode Island, Virginia and Oklahoma have proposed resolutions opposing controversial provisions of the NDAA. And city governments are taking it up in Maryland, Colorado, North Dakota and California, he said.

“Our position is the NDAA is patently unconstitutional,” Filippi said. “It’s not a political issue. It’s an American and a freedom issue. It transcends political issues.

“The problem is most people don’t know about it,” he added. “You didn’t read about it.”

The only senator voting against it from Missouri, Oklahoma or Kansas was U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. U.S. Reps. Billy Long, R-Mo.; Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan; and Dan Boren, D-Okla.; voted in favor of the NDAA.

Requests were made to Long and U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., for phone interviews about their votes, but all declined through their press offices.

In a statement issued at its passage in December, however, McCaskill noted that the NDAA was “completely earmark-free.” McCaskill had previously released an investigation that found at least 115 earmarks that were secretly inserted by the House Armed Services Committee, and subsequently stripped from the bill. McCaskill is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.

The NDAA also included a pay raise for U.S. troops, caps on government contacts, and “at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense,” McCaskill noted, “continued support for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is produced in St. Louis.”

Blunt, in a statement, said, “This final bill includes a number of critical provisions that will help ensure our nation’s servicemen and women have the resources they need in order to defend and protect America.”

“I’m pleased this bill includes my amendment to ensure National Guard soldiers mobilized for domestic emergency operations are entitled to the same employment rights when they return from active duty as those who are activated for service overseas. And I’m glad the legislation includes the amendment I introduced requiring the secretary of defense to perform a study and seek recommendations to evaluate how Naval vessels are named,” Blunt said.

He also applauded a part of the bill “that designates the financial sector of Iran, including the Central Bank of Iran, as a primary money laundering concern.”

‘Unconstitutional’

Hilderbrand‘s fellow commissioners said they supported his proposal during a meeting last week, but Commissioner Jack Garner added that the so-called underwear bomber — Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009 — should have been hanged on the spot. Abdumutallab pleaded guilty on the second day of his trial and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court next week.

Garner also said U.S. citizen Dennis Rader, the so-called BTK killer, should have been immediately executed by authorities. Rader pleaded guilty on his scheduled trial date and was sentence to 10 consecutive life terms.

“If you don’t like America, leave,” Garner said, adding that the U.S. Constitution sometimes gets in the way of justice.

The American Civil Liberties Union is on record against the indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero issued a statement on Dec. 31 after President Obama signed the measure.

“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” Romero said.

Romero also noted that the George W. Bush administration used similar claims of worldwide detention authority to hold a citizen in military custody.

Joplin attorney Bill Fleischaker, a former prosecutor who has defended civil liberties cases, said the measure is no different than how authoritarian regimes have operated throughout history.

“The whole idea behind our justice system is you have a right to a speedy trial,” Fleischaker said. “You have a right to know what the charges against you are. You have a right to confront your accuser. You have a right to counsel. This throws it all away.”

He said members of Congress who voted in favor of the act are afraid.

“It’s because they’re afraid of seeming soft on terrorism if they stand up for civil liberties,” Fleischaker said. “That’s the whole nature of our political system now. Everything that’s being done is motivated by fear.”

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