President Obama signed a $662 billion defense bill on Saturday that includes GOP-authored provisions giving the military greater authority to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely — even if they're U.S. citizens. Obama had threatened to veto the bill, and still has "serious reservations" about the detention rules. But Obama said Congress made last-minute changes that rendered the National Defense Authorization Act "minimally acceptable," and he vowed never to allow open-ended military detention of citizens without trial. Still, did Obama betray his progressive supporters?
No doubt about it. Obama sold out: "Thomas Jefferson must be spinning in his grave right now," says Michael Coard at Philadelphia magazine. Citizens have a constitutional right to a civilian trial — and civilian courts have proven far more effective than military tribunals at convicting terrorists, anyway. Obama came into office rejecting the phony idea that we had to choose between our safety and our ideals. "What a difference [three] years make."
"The Obama government is watching you"
It's not perfect, but Obama improved detention laws: Civil liberties groups should be thanking Obama, say Marty Lederman and Steve Vladeck at Lawfare. Already, enemy forces can be held until hostilities end. If Obama had buckled and accepted the more extreme earlier versions of this bill, that authority would have been expanded. But he held out for changes, such as greater flexibility in transferring prisoners from Guantanamo, that "will be distinct improvements vis-a-vis the status quo."
"The NDAA: The good, the bad, and the laws of war — Part I"
The law still sets a dangerous precedent: It's good that Obama expressed discomfort with this bill's detainee measures, says David Dayen at Firedoglake. But "the problem with this bill was always about codifying of indefinite military detention into the law, available for any future president to pick up and use." And remember, the law's language is vague — you can detain anyone "associated" with al Qaeda. That's a very slippery slope.
"New Year's Eve news dump: Obama signs defense authorization bill"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Chuck Hagel was a huge mistake
- 5 quick things you can do today to boost your creativity
- Want to eliminate the scourge of frat culture? Lower the drinking age.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- Yes, the Obama administration's green loans are unprofitable. They should be.
- What would it take for humans to build a settlement on Mars?
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- Why we gossip, according to science
- 13 vegetarian dishes for Thanksgiving
Subscribe to the Week