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U.S. News and Commentary



Friday
Nov302012

Astounding: Senate passes amendment to protect citizens’ rights to trial

Most Americans are clueless about the Constitutional crisis our country is experiencing right now. Many of our leaders, even those touted as experts on the Constitution, appear to be clueless as well.

Exhibit A: The U.S. Senate found it necessary to pass an amendment to protect citizens' right to trial.

A prime example of this occurred on Thursday when  Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) teamed up to sponsor Amendment No. 3018 to the National Defense Authorization Act. Feinstein and Lee would normally be viewed as polar opposites when it comes to politics. The amendment was co-sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who issued a press statement explaining why this legislation was necessary.

If you have any libertarian leanings whatsoever, you already know how troubling the NDAA is. Many debates have centered on the issue of what we are willing to sacrifice in order to secure our country, a debate sparked by the attacks on September 11, 2001.

A dustup occurred between President Barack Obama’s administration and a federal judge over the bill. Obama has emerged as a twin, albeit a more aggressive twin, to President George W. Bush on the issue, and the Democrat’s enthusiasm for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens should have surprised media. Most media, of course, gave Obama his customary pass because of his party affiliation. Bush was roundly criticized for the Patriot Act, for instance.

What caused  much of the current controversy was an addition to the act during Obama’s first term. Joanne Mariner, at Hunter College, wrote a good analysis of NDAA in general, explaining the change:

“What is now known as Subtitle D of the NDAA—the section on detention—made its first appearance in March of this year.  Called the Detainee Security Act in the House, and the Military Detainee Procedures Improvement Act in the Senate, the bills, introduced by Representative Buck McKeon and Senator John McCain, respectively, were meant to shift counterterrorism responsibilities from law enforcement to the military. The clear goal of the two bills was to require that suspected terrorists either be tried before military commissions or be held in indefinite detention without charge.”

For individuals who believe the Constitution should be the guiding light on any legislation, the language in the act had serious implications. Could an American citizen be held indefinitely without trial? Or in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, killed without benefit of charges or trial?

In al-Awlaki’s case, he has been described by media as a “dual Yemen-U.S. national.” The Obama administration allegedly killed al-Awlaki with a drone strike.

Recall Obama’s criticism of Bush regarding waterboarding. Then ask yourself if Obama believed waterboarding is cruel, what makes him so enthusiastic about drone strikes?

Bush also used drone strikes; Obama’s ramped them up. According to ProPublica, “In 8 years of Bush, there were 44 drone strikes. Under Obama from 2009-August 2011, there were 222 and rising.”

Did this mean any U.S. citizen suspected of terrorism could be permanently dispatched by his or her government?

Those factors led Paul, Feinstein and Lee to sponsor the amendment, especially after the Obama administration fought to keep the law as flexible as possible.

Paul, one of the most articulate senators when it comes to the much-misunderstood Constitution, had this to say about NDAA:

“Why should you be wary? The government has descriptions of who might be a terrorist. If you have seven days of food in your basement, you might be a terrorist. If you have weatherized ammunition, you might be a terrorist. This is what your government describes as things you should report. Know your neighbor to report your neighbor. If you have weatherized ammunition, multiple guns, food in your basement, if you like to pay by cash, if these are the characteristics for which we might be accused of terrorism, would you not at the very least still want to retain your right as an American citizen to a right to a trial by jury of your peers?”

On Thursday evening, the amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 67-29. People who believe in human rights would have liked to see that vote with a zero in the ‘nay’ column, by the way.

Paul spoke about the Sixth Amendment and Americans’ right to trial in a speech before the Senate:

“This is an ancient right that we have defended for 800 years, for goodness sakes. To say that habeas is due process is absurd. It's the beginning of due process. If you don't have a right to trial by jury, you do not have due process. You do not have a Constitution. What are you fighting against and for if you throw the Constitution out? If you throw the Sixth Amendment out? It's in the body of our Constitution. It's in the Bill of Rights. It's in every constitution in the United States. For goodness sakes, the trial by jury has been a long-standing and ancient and noble right. For goodness sakes, let's not scrap it now.

The amendment is unique in one other respect—for once, Republicans and Democrats united to do the right thing. The fact it was necessary at all is astounding and extremely troubling to anyone who values freedom.

In Obama's first year in office, his Dept. of Homeland Security issued directives suggesting that combat veterans, tax protesters and even supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) were "extremists" who might be suspected of having potential to engage in terrorism.

(Analysis by Kay B. Day/Nov. 30, 2012)

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