20 Things You Should Know About the Bill That Could Ruin America

Last week the U.S. Senate passed 93-7 a version of the National Defense Authorization Act that includes provisions giving the military the right to detain you forever and without charge if they think you're some kind of terrorist. Consider it an early holiday present! There is no exchange policy, sorry.

President Barack Obama can get rid of the Act's indefinite detention provisions by using his veto powers. He says he might do just that, so there is hope. But Hopey could also change his mind at the last minute and let the language become law. Civil libertarians from all sides of the political spectrum are very anxious about the final call he'll make.

Even though you can't do much to prevent the provisions from taking effect, here's a list of 20 details about them. Maybe the info will come in handy when you finally flee to Saudi Arabia ISO political refugee status and have to explain how your country was oppressing you:

  • 1. The provisions were passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—enacted for the last 48 years or so to provide funding for the military and all our wars. (The act for fiscal year 2012 awarded $662 billion for defense spending.) Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) took the lead in promoting them, making passage a bipartisan effort/failure.
  • 2. Initially the provisions passed in a closed-door committee meeting, without a single hearing. The Senate didn't want to spoil the surprise for everybody.
  • 3. Because of the provisions, the NDAA now says the military can detain anyone deemed to be "a part of" or deemed to have "substantially supported" Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or "associated forces." You can be on the battlefield, or you can be PayPaling money to your local terrorist cell while sipping your latte at a Starbucks—doesn't matter. Even though we captured Saddam, Osama, and Anwar al-Awlaki, these powers are still necessary. Don't question.
  • 4. The bill grants power to the military to arrest U.S. citizens on American soil and detain them in military prisons forever without offering them the right to legal counsel or even a trial. This isn't a totally new thing: "dirty bomb" plotter Jose Padilla spent three-and-a-half years as an "enemy combatant" until he was finally charged. But Padilla's detention was unusual and sparked a huge outcry; the new provisions would standardize his treatment and enable us all to become Jose Padillas.
  • 5. Some people are trying to say that language regarding indefinite detention (Section 1031) doesn't apply to American citizens, but it does. However, the mandatory detention requirement (Section 1032) includes an exemption for American citizens, which means the military doesn't have to imprison you forever and ever "unless ordered to do so" by the president. You better remove that Nobama bumper sticker from your truck.
  • 6. The provisions could last as long as fruitcake lasts. We covered this earlier.
  • 7. Many important people oppose the provisions, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, the CIA, the military, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, the Director of National Intelligence, and your mom (unless she's a U.S. senator).
  • 8. A group of 26 retired generals and admirals wrote a letter to the Senate saying the provisions "reduce the options available to our Commander-in-Chief to incapacitate terrorists," and will "do more harm than good." The Senate obviously ignored them.
  • 9. According to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who opposes indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, an American can be deemed a "terrorist" after just one hearing. Finally, the government promises to work efficiently on something.
  • 10. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) tried to kill the provision on indefinite detention with an amendment that required Congressional review of these brand-new military detention powers, but his effort failed 60 votes to 38.
  • 11. All the Republican senators supported the provisions except for Paul and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
  • 12. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was in attendance for the vote on behalf of the waterboarding lobby. Every time he heard the words "indefinite detention," he got an erection.
  • 13. None of this stuff will ever affect people who are innocent of terrorism-related crimes, unless the government wrongly accuses them.
  • 14. As pointed out by Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, the provision dispenses with Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution, which provides that nobody can be punished for treason without heightened due process requirements being met." Goodbye, Art. 3 Sec. 3! Send our regards to the 4th, 8th, and 14th Amendments.
  • 15. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of the provisions' most vocal supporters, put it this way to the New York Times: "Citizens who are suspected of joining Al Qaeda are opening themselves up 'to imprisonment and death ... And when they say, "I want my lawyer," you tell them: "Shut up. You don't get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined Al Qaeda."'" Shut up, fool! Lindsey Graham hates it when you talk.
  • 16. Some of the senators who passed this shit don't really know what they are talking about when they talk about "enemy combatants" and their status under existing law.
  • 17. President Barack Obama has stated he'll veto the provisions because they would "raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets." They're also confusing.
  • 18. The provisions will militarize America even further and—in Graham's words—"basically say[s] in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield." Your backyard is a microcosm of the war on terror. Just think of that every time you host a barbecue.
  • 19. They could disappear from the NDAA if the House and Senate conferees who meet in conference committee this week decide to get rid of them.
  • 20. Texas Republicans have somehow worked sex with animals into all this.

Now for the good news: Greenwald at Salon says none of this indefinite detention without a lawyer stuff changes the status quo that much. It only codifies what's already been happening in the U.S. for the past few years. So you've been living under these conditions for a while now, but look—you're still not in jail. Just be more careful about what sorts of opinions on the government you post on Twitter, and don't say anything nice about Al Qaeda, and you'll be fine.

[Image of Guantanamo via AP]