For the last decade, we’ve been fighting a war against terrorism. We’re fighting a mostly faceless enemy who nevertheless has presented, until recently, the single largest threat to our identity as Americans.
But as of last week, the most dangerous enemies threatening the rights and freedoms afforded us by our citizenship became not those people scheming to blow up cars in busy intersections, but those people tasked with upholding the foundation of our democracy – the United States Constitution.
In the last few days of November, the Senate voted on the National Defense Authorization Act, which is a federal law that covers the specifics of the Department of Defense budget. The law has been enacted every year for nearly half a century, but this year included modifications in Section 1031. The Senate passed the act for 2012, by an overwhelming majority of 93 to 7.
The White House has already threatened to veto the law, because Section 1031 will allow the U.S. government to detain anyone who is a member of, or affiliated with, a terrorist organization, regardless of citizenship, “without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
In other words, the government can imprison an American citizen, without trial, for the duration of a period of hostility that, at present, has no foreseeable end date.
True, unless you are a terrorist, or affiliated with an organization of terrorists, this probably won’t affect you. But consider this: the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to “a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” Section 1031 is a direct contradiction of that guarantee.
If the Sixth Amendment becomes conditional, what’s next to go?
That Amendment is right there on the same document with the Amendments that guarantee our rights to freedom of speech, religion and the press, our right to not have to provide soldiers with room and board if we don’t want to, and our protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
It seems ridiculous to imply that these rights may be at risk, but once the structural components of our government have been compromised, all bets will be off.
Under Section 1031, the government will ostensibly be able to simply decide who is and is not a terrorist, without any mention of that pesky “burden of proof,” and anyone accused could theoretically be held indefinitely, without any hope of a trial, let alone a speedy one.
Yes, the slippery slope argument is a tired one, but it rings true. We must speak up in our own defense while we are still afforded the right to do so. The Constitution must remain sacred, because without it we are no democracy at all.
Our government should take action against those who seek to do us harm. People who plan to destroy our buildings and murder our citizens should be stopped. But terrorists cannot damage the Constitution; only Americans can do that.
In the last year, young people the world over have demonstrated the power of their voices. The recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and now Russia all started with the nations’ young adults.
If the people of our generation can affect such change in nations where the civil liberties are few and far between, imagine the impact we are capable of making in a nation whose framework gives us the right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”