The House is expected to vote soon on a bill that hands over to the President Congress’ constitutional authority to declare and authorize war, substantially altering the delicate balance of powers that the Founding Fathers envisioned.
The annual reauthorization of the Department of Defense contains unprecedented and dangerous language that gives the President virtually unchecked power to take the country to war and keep us there. This bill significantly undermines the Constitution, the institution of Congress and sets the United States on a path of permanent war.
The Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) declares that the United States is in an armed conflict with not only al Qaeda and the Taliban, but “associated forces” and individuals, organizations and nations that support such forces. The President could then have the full legal authority to send American troops to engage in acts of war anywhere–Yemen, Somalia, Iran, even the United States–without constitutionally required Congressional authorization and, consequently, without any restrictions or oversight from the American people or Congress.
This bill would also make permanent the degradation of law and human rights which has become Guantanamo. It imposes bans on the transfer of any detainee held at Guantanamo, including those who have been cleared of any charges. This means that the United States would be forced to keep imprisoning men who are known to be innocent or are not a threat. This bill not only allows the imprisonment of innocent people, but could mandate it.
The bill also prevents the use of Article III federal courts for the trial of most terrorism suspects. This circumvents our system of justice and our protections under the Constitution, showing a lack of faith in US law enforcement and courts which are the constitutional venues for stopping terrorism. Our federal courts have a long history of trying terrorist suspects, while military courts are untested, lacking in legitimacy and of questionable effectiveness. Since 9/11, federal courts have prosecuted over 400 terrorism-related cases, while military courts have convicted only six.
It’s as if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan never happened. These wars cost thousands of lives of our men and women in uniform, and perhaps a million civilian lives, with long-term costs approaching $5 trillion. Yet, in light of the attempt to try to make permanent an authorization for war, it is as if the consequences of the wars we are in have not occurred. It’s as if our “humanitarian” military intervention in Libya, which has helped create full blown civil war and which has ensnared us in yet another military stalemate in the region, never happened. It is as if centuries of evidence of the ramifications of the military overreach of empires never happened. It’s as if the Constitution, which requires Congress to have a say in when and where we go to war and which guarantees U.S. citizens the right to a fair and speedy trial, was never written.
Congress must protect the American people from the over-reach of any Chief Executive who is enamored with unilateralism, pre-emption, first strike and the power to prosecute war without Constitutional or statutory proscriptions.
Permanent, global war is not the answer. It will not increase our national security. Far from ridding the world of terrorism, it will become a terrorist recruitment program.