Civil Liberties

Don't Worry: The President Will Have Complete Discretion to Imprison People Without Trial


This week the Senate is considering a defense authorization bill that would explicitly allow indefinite military detention of terrorism suspects arrested on U.S. soil (or anywhere else), including American citizens. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who co-authored the provision, say it "offers balance in dealing with detainees." Writing in The Washington Post, Levin and McCain address critics who worry that the bill takes too much power away from the president:

The bill does not tie the administration's hands in deciding how best to handle a detainee. It is the executive branch that determines whether a detainee meets the criteria for military custody, under procedures that this legislation allows the executive branch to develop. Not only does the bill include a national security waiver [allowing terrorism suspects to be held in civilian custody], but it expressly authorizes the transfer of any military detainee to civilian custody for trial in the federal courts.

What about critics who are alarmed, rather than reassured, by the idea of letting the president lock up people he unliaterally identifies as enemies of the state and throw away the key? Levin and McCain do not have much to offer such skeptics, beyond saying that the bill applies to "a narrowly defined group of people—al-Qaeda terrorists who participate in planning or conducting attacks against us." But how do we know that the people whom the president decides to imprison without trial for as long as he feels like it really are Al Qaeda terrorists? Isn't that what trials are for?

The ACLU has more on the bill here. More on indefinite detention of terrorism suspects here.

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  1. ah, thank you, Carl Levin, my state senator for this wonderful little insight into your cold, lifeless heart.

    1. I despise both Levins, and our OTHER worthless senator, Mrs. Stabenow, and my fellow Michiganian/anders for electing them.

      Also, fuck the memory of that cunt Jennifer Granholm, who also sucks.

      1. how dare you!

      2. Stabenow was lucky in ’06 – part of the Democratic wave. I hope she goes down in ’12, though the idea of Senator Peter Hoekstra doesn’t exactly thrill me.

      3. “In 5 years, you’ll be blown away.”
        -Jennifer Granholm

        She destroys the economy and fucks off to Berkeley and a cushy b.s. position while everyone else is stuck in this shitty mitten.

      4. Fuck Michigan, too!

  2. What’s the definition of “terrorism”, anyway?

    So it’s okay to kill with drone process and to imprison indefinitely if “terror” is involved. Do I have it about right?

    1. Yes, that is correct, “terror” being narrowly defined as anything the current President of the United States finds to be “terrible,” or to have one or more terrible qualities.

    2. It’s like these shitbags read about life under totalitarian regimes with a vigorous secret police force and thought the tales were recipes rather than cautionary tales.

    3. Clearly, then, we need to elect a president who feels no fear, like Chuck Norris or Paul Reubens.

      1. (Ron) Paul/Norris 2012

      2. Except it turns out that Norris is a wnd freakazoid.

        1. Could be worse.

          He could be a (shudder) “community organizer.”

    4. If AYrabs are involved – tourists.

    5. What’s the definition of “terrorism”?

      It’s kind of like pornography. Basically, anything that the judge finds offensive.

      For example, the US Coast Guard counts anyone engaged in drug smuggling, including the guys that unload a vessel, as “narco-terrorists”. I would not be at all surprised if the definition of “terrorist” extends to all persons engaged in the recreational pharmaceutical industry.

    6. What’s the definition of “terrorism”, anyway?

      Couldn’t tell you, but I do know that secret evidence is involved.

  3. Fucking shortsightedness, how does it work?

    1. “Cerberus Capital Management, the private investment company that first came to widespread attention when it acquired Chrysler in 2007. (Chrysler later had to be rescued by taxpayers).”

      Market failure ?

      1. Anything short of a highly regulated, planned economy is representative of market failure.

  4. Oh John McCain, why couldn’t you have done your country a favor and kamikazed into that concrete plant?

    Then we’d be spared your freedom-killing daddy-issues.

    1. Five and a-half years, tarran!

      1. My petition to send McCain back to Vietnam permanently doesn’t seem so ridiculous now, does it?

  5. Zeus on a bicycle! He’s already killed a US citizen without any due process rights. And now the congress critters want to grant him even more power? No!

    1. why should obama care being a kenyian ?

    2. “Zeus on a bicycle”?

      Will the blaspheming never end!

      1. Jesus in jogging shorts, will you stop it with the concern trolling?

        1. Flying Spaghetti Monster on a plate?

          1. Odin on a pogo stick

  6. C’mon, you know the drill. Right people in charge, Top. Men., etc, etc.

    I’m sure that this law will never be misused for political gain by politicians.

    1. Tell that to the first Prom Queen they lockup for a nasty tweet.

      1. Tell that to the first Prom Queen they lockup for a nasty tweet.

        So close . . . .

    2. “News at 11: 6-yr-old butt doctor discovered to have ties to Al-Quesadilla.”

  7. This is EXACTLY how I would expect bi-partisanship to work. Nothing gets our betters in a mood to work together quite declaring everyone in the world like public enemy #1.

  8. Is there where the “You’ve nothing to fear if you’ve done nothing wrong” trope gets pulled out and dusted off by those who consider themselves our betters?

  9. I don’t see how this passes Constitutional muster. This is basically suspending habeas. Last I looked Congress could only do that in times of invasion or rebellion, neither of which are happening here. If you have habeas rights, you then have the due process rights under bill of rights. I don’t see how you can suspend the bill of rights on American citizens on US soil even if they are agents of foreign governments or terrorist organizations.

    1. 9/11 changed everything, John. Are you saying that 9/11 didn’t change everything?

      We suffered invasion by foreigners on 9/11. Home-grown terrorism counts as domestic rebellion. The real question is what took them so fucking long to get this bill written?

      /The power-mad mind at work

      1. If you can detain people without trial on us soil and you can kill people without trial elsewhere, why can’t you kill people on US soil?

        1. I’m fairly certain they’re working up to that, if they haven’t done it already without anybody finding out.

        2. I don’t see where any member of the executive has said they can’t, John.The Bush DOJ made the argument about the AUMF authorized them ‘under certain circumstances’ to whack American citizens. Then Obama authorized the Al-Awlaki hit. I can’t see how physical location is relevant. If you’re going to whack people with no due process, why do you care where they are?

          1. why do you care where they are

            In Drone 2010, some levels are more fun than others.

          2. Well if you say you won’t do it on American soil that at least makes you admit that you will try to catch them before killing them. If they are in America and you know where they are, you really can’t claim you couldn’t go out and arrest them.

            Then of course there is the collateral damage issue. I think the American who is killed as he is walking past his neighbor’s house when it is droned striked has a pretty good claim against the government.

            Here is the worst part about all of this. If you combine this with the secrecy laws, we will never even know that they do it. Obama is whacking people all over the world. And there is no oversight. It is all secret, that includes the intel and the entire reasoning behind killing someone.

            So with this law, the President will be able to kill a US citizen on US soil and never even have to explain why he did it. And oh by the way if anyone in the government gets the idea of being a whistle blower or anything, they will necessarily be leaking classified information and be subject to prosecution under the NSA.

            If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. It is not that I think that the Obama people or the Bush people don’t mean well and are not at least trying to kill the right people. They do and are. But they are laying the ground work for someone to come in and pretty much kill anyone anywhere for any reason. They are total fucking fools.

            1. Oh, I didn’t say I’m not horrified at well-meaning fools who are working hard to give the government all the powers that led us to start a revolution. These people have gone nuts, and most people will acquiesce.

              I guess that whole limited government thing was neat while it lasted.

              1. The libertarian is also eminently realistic because he alone understands fully the nature of the State and its thrust for power. In contrast, it is the seemingly far more realistic conservative believer in “limited govern?ment” who is the truly impractical utopian. This conservative keeps repeating the litany that the central government should be severely lim?ited by a constitution. Yet, at the same time that he rails against the corruption of the original Constitution and the widening of federal power since 1789, the conservative fails to draw the proper lesson from that degeneration. The idea of a strictly limited constitutional State was a noble experiment that failed, even under the most favorable and propitious circumstances.

            2. “”They are total fucking fools.””

              The citizenry are the fucking fools. We’ve let politician after politician play us for such, for many, many decades. They’ve played to our fears to get their ends.

            3. “I think the American who is killed as he is walking past his neighbor’s house when it is droned striked has a pretty good claim against the government.”

              Collateral damage. Sovereign immunity, bitches.

          3. Obama won’t order a hit on US soil because flying the drone would violate FAA noise regulations and its emissions exceed EPA limits. The hole created by the missle would also violate mining safety regulations and, in most cities, would require an excavation permit. There would at least have to be a NEPA study first. Rule of law and all that…

            1. Disappear, disappear, disappear….this will be the way on American soil.

    2. Last I looked Congress could only do that in times of invasion or rebellion, neither of which are happening here.

      Are you questioning the wisdom of our masters, John?

      That sounds awfully defiant. Rebellious, even.

      1. I think perhaps John is an -errorist tay, eh wot?

        *nods toward holding cell with John’s name on it*

    3. I don’t see how this passes Constitutional muster. This is basically suspending habeas. Last I looked Congress could only do that in times of invasion or rebellion, neither of which are happening here.

      John, why do you hate America?

    4. “”Last I looked Congress could only do that in times of invasion or rebellion, neither of which are happening here””

      Define invasion? If SCOTUS can’t properly define “infringe”, I can’t expect any other branch to do a better job.

      For many, 9/11 was an invasion by the islamists, and its continuation is being planned somewhere at this very moment. Maybe in the house right next to yours.

    5. “I don’t see how this passes Constitutional muster.”

      I hate to burst your bubble, but the Constitution is a dead letter.

  10. Hey Obama…I don’t even know these assholes!

    I’ve been on your side this entire time. Really, I’ve always been with you. So just look on over there at that shady brown guy and stop reviewing my file.

  11. If we lived in a sane world, any politician who said something like this would be immediately burned on a pile of old tires. In our world, no one bats an eyelash.

    1. Can we burn them on a pile of used Christmas trees instead of old tires? Nice, quick, hot fire.

      1. Why do you want quick and hot?

        1. The bodies’ fat content would just smolder and stink on a slow-low fire.

  12. McCain would’ve been better.

    Wait, wha?

      1. Well in an alternate scenario, it could have been Pres McCain, with Sen Obama co-sponsoring the bill…..

  13. I’m sure there are a lot of people who believe the Constitution already granted this authority.

    1. The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States

      They hold that up like a Rosary.

      1. How far is it from these kinds of extraconstitutional positions to a president refusing to give up office?

        1. Pretty far. But I think we are getting close to a President unilaterally killing someone in the US.

          1. Like a Republican candidate?

            1. That would be a bit much. They will kill some nut who probably needs killing. They are not that far gone yet. But what they don’t understand is that they are allowing a President to do something like that. They are laying the groundwork for a totalitarian state.

              1. No, I agree, nothing that blatant is possible now.

              2. They are laying the groundwork for a totalitarian state.

                Well, duh! Isn’t that the goal of any power seeker?

                For those who seek power, there is no amount of power they will refuse. Power is not a means. It is the end in itself.

                And the people will welcome it with open arms. They will demand it.
                For if the people and the government are one in the same, empowering the government empowers the people!
                There is nothing more free than tyranny!

              3. Could you imagine Nixon with these kinds of precedents and powers?

                Absolutely horrifying expansion of executive power. Me, I think it’ll be used here first on those claimed to be narcoterrorists. Particularly if said drug runners insist on having their shootouts on US soil. Still waiting for an AQ-Zetas or Gulf Cartel link to appear. When it does…

                1. Nixon was a pussy compared to the likes of Bush and Obama.

              4. Been there, done that.

            2. I think it’s possible, especially since the killings would have the cloak of secrecy. The tools are being put (or have already been put) into place. Of course they wouldn’t come out and admit they had anything to do with it, and anybody who says anything would be a “conspiracy theory nut”.

              I think it vastly unwise to tempt them like that. And I include Obama in the list of those who shouldn’t be tempted.

          1. If they can make it close, I could see Obama stealing it by refusing to recognize the result of an election. His supporters would just scream “Florida” and go along with it.

            1. I disagree: Obama wants authority without responsibility. If he’s ousted in a bitterly contested election, he can spend the rest of his life ‘campaigning’, collecting speakers’ fees to pad his pension as a statesman who was wronged by an ungrateful nation who turned the other cheek.

          2. Can’t he just declare all his opponents to be terrorists on November 1 and ship them off to black sites?

        2. “”How far is it from these kinds of extraconstitutional positions to a president refusing to give up office?””

          Not necessary. The old boss is the same as the new boss, and the old boss get’s a pension and a speaking career.

  14. What’s the big deal? Our president has already launched a fatal drone attack on an American citizen he didn’t like. It seems indefinite detention without a trial is milder than death without a trial.

    1. As bad as George W. Bush was, not even he dared to go this far.

      This is “change” all right, but somehow I don’t think it’s the kind of change Obama’s supporters quite had in mind.

    2. That occurred outside US jurisdiction, so it’s not quite at the level of what this bill expressly allows.

  15. Only those working with Snowball will be affected by this. You don’t want Snowball back do you?

    1. Do you mean Snowball, the cat that looks like Hitler?

  16. a president refusing to give up office?

    “My fellow Americans, eight years ago, I was sent to the White House with a mandate to renew America’s unique mission and standing in the world. Tonight, I come before you to say I will honor that sacred mandate. There will be no election next November. For me to step down with my job not yet complete would be a dishonor and a revocation of the solemn vow I made to the American People. Thank you, and good night.”

    1. Obama is incapable of making that short of a speech.

    2. Brooks – you forgot all the ‘ums.’

      1. Let me be clear, this is necessary to win the future, to ensure that America remains free and secure. There are some who welcome America’s descent: only they oppose this decision, which is so necessary to ensure our democracy.

    3. Too bad the elections are run by the states, not the feds.

      The only vote the feds control is the electoral college.

      1. But holding an election after Dear Leader has said none was needed would be treason and sedition.

      2. The states retain power in the federalist system?

        1. “My fellow Americans, our country has been collapsing into decline and gridlock. Politics as usual will not work. Racist terrorists, under the name of the Tea Party, have been obstructing the necessary functions of the government. Sinister financiers have been undermining the regime with their unregulated corporate contributions. Let me be clear: I fully support our democratic tradition. It is precisely for that reason that we must curb the excesses of democracy and our outdated fetish for Presidential elections every four years. There is nothing magic about the number four. So I am canceling the 2012 elections. Also, the superstition about separating the government into separate executive, judicial and legislative branches may have been well and good in the 18th century, but no longer works today. Therefore, I am assuming all legislative and judicial powers. Certain enemies of the Republic, like the sinister and evil Koch brothers, will be detained until they have been rehabilitated and reeducated. Loyal Americans will of course support these necessary measures. Good night.”

  17. nothing that blatant is possible now.

    Who said it had to be blatant?

    “Accidents. We haz them.”

  18. Old man McCain is sure an asshole.

    1. Get off my lawn! And if ya don’t, I got a drone with your name on it, punk! Or a sniper! You’ll never know which!

      *shakes fist at waist level, cause he can’t raise his arm up to shoulder level or something cause he’s TEH WAR HEEROZ!!!!11*

    2. If President McCain had proposed this at least the Dems and their puppets would be going crazy with the Hitler shit and probably stop it.

      With Obama in office, they all think it’s a peachy idea.

      1. I don’t think so. They know that the pendulum will swing back their way.

      2. And if the President is named Gingrich?

    3. I’ll forever have to bear the shame of knowing that I voted for him in my first election. Although granted, so will all my liberal friends that were schmoozed by the Obama hope train.

  19. If you’re havin girl problems
    I feel bad for ya son
    I got 99 problems but
    a constitutional limit on the Executive Power
    ain’t one
    HIT ME!!

  20. How’s this for a Ron Paul attack ad: a picture of George W. Bush and images of US strikes against Iraq and Afghanistan, some suicide bombings, as well as pictures of GITMO. Then transition to a picture of Obama followed by images of drone strikes against Yemen, airstrikes against Libya, and then video of Obama embracing the concept of executive power to kill without trial.

    The caption: The more things CHANGE, the more things stay the same.

    1. For an attack ad I would like to see one contrasting dozens of scenes of Americans working at difficult task with each one of Obama’s golf outings carefully dated with Obama’s Americans are lazy speech as the audio track.

    2. …then video of Obama embracing the concept of executive power to kill without trial.

      Finished with video of Obama accepting the fucking Nobel Peace Prize, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” !!??!!!

  21. “”But how do we know that the people whom the president decides to imprison without trial for as long as he feels like it really are Al Qaeda terrorists? Isn’t that what trials are for?””

    Military trials, which have a lower bar. But of course it’s already been argued, Bush and Obama, that if the verdict is not guilty, they do not have to release them.

  22. Wow, what terrible research you guys at Reason do. Read the legislation. It specifically excludes US citizens and legal residents. Major fail Reason.

    1. Oh, well, then that’s completely different.

      I can’t see what could possibly go wrong by giving the military law enforcement powers with no habeas corpus limitations.

  23. I see shit like this and it just makes me want to cry. And by cry, I mean it makes me want to violently pump round after gas powered round into the fucks that think they can do this kind of thing. I know violence is not something I’m supposed to support as a libertarian. But it’s getting harder and harder to justify a non-violent approach to such utter disregard for liberty. I don’t know the answer. And I truly don’t want to hurt anyone or see anyone get hurt. But I don’t know what it’s going to take to get these kinds of things to stop or at least slow down. Part of me believes Americans will finally reach a point and say no more. But the cynic (and probably realist) in me says that Americans have taken the truly epic and wonderful blessings of freedom for granted for so long, and have lived at the beneveloent teat of the almighty state for so long, that they will accept this kind of thing all the while saying, thank you sir, may I have another? **Sigh** It’s really bringing me down, hombres.

  24. I don’t know. It seems to me most people here seem to think there is nothing an American can do that wouldn’t be considered a criminal matter. That seems to me to be just as dumb as considering all people related to Al Queda to fall under the rules of war.

    Well now to go don my flame proof clothing.

  25. Does not appear to apply to citizens and legal aliens.


    (b) Applicability to United States Citizens and Lawful Resident Aliens-

    (1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS- The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.

    (2) LAWFUL RESIDENT ALIENS- The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to a lawful resident alien of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.

  26. Sound money advocates better be careful.

    US Attorney Anne M. Tompkins regarding Bernard von NotHaus. In her statement she proclaimed that “attempts to undermine the legitimate currency of this country are simply a unique form of domestic terrorism”

    1. Fuck, they could declare SUV drivers Eco-Terrorists!!??! Drone-kills on the freeways…



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