On January 1st this year, US President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that, amongst other many other provisions, allows for the US military to indefinitely detain without trial anyone suspected of terrorists acts inside the United States and, the same for anyone captured in battle wherever it is in the world. Even the UK’s provisions, which were widely criticised, were nothing like this, indeed the argument was not about indefinite detention at all, but simply over how many days someone suspected of terrorism should be allowed to be detained without trial: 14 or 28. That’s some way short of indefinite.
Of course, the infinitely compromising and slippery Obama is trying to have his cake and eat by promising that he will not actually allow this power to be used except in strict accordance with the constitution. That may provide some temporary relief for US citizens accused of terrorism, at least and until a more gung-ho President is elected or Obama gives in to demands that he must use it – something military sources are looking forward to, it seems. However the provisions on the treatment of foreign captives effectively provide a legal footing in domestic law for the extrajudicial actions of former President Bush’s establishment of Guantanemo Bay and the associated global network of extraordinary rendition and torture / interogation sites. They undoubtedly contravene the Geneva Conventions (see 75 UNTS 135, for example)and several other aspects of International Law, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
But, this is far from the only current assault on the rights of those who remain innocent in law of any criminal act in the USA. In New York, for example, the New York Police Department in conjunction with the CIA was last year revealed as operating a secret surveillance program against Muslims, titled ‘Ancestries of Interest’. It is unlikely to be the only such program. Like Obama’s indefinite detention provision, this is a perversion of the constitutional rights of US citizens. US police forces from the FBI downwards are not generally permitted to use undercover agents without there being some kind of specific allegation or exisiting evidence of crime. Essentially, this makes a whole community subject to categorical suspicion and permanent infiltration and investigation. It seems that every level of policing and justice in the USA from investigation to trial to sentencing has been indelibly stained by the War on Terror.
But this has all happened several times before of course, and happily not everyone has forgotten their history. Now black Christian pastors who remember the FBI/NSA COINTELPRO operations of the 1960s against black radical and civil rights groups, are reportedly joining with Islamic groups in opposing the NYPD’s racist and islamophobic surveillance program. Along with the challenges being mounted to Obama’s new law by ACLU and others, there are signs that Obama is no longer being given the benefit of the doubt by many of the groups who supported him first time around. How successful any of these moves will be is anyone’s guess but solidarity that moves beyond American Islamic groups having to defend themselves against the howling mob is something of a step forward.