"Shut Up. You Don't Get a Lawyer!": The Defense Authorization Act Guts Civil Liberties

Q and A with Human Rights Watch's Laura Pitter


"It is not unfair to make an American citizen account for the fact that they decided to help Al Qaeda to kill us all and hold them as long as it takes to find intelligence about what may be coming next," says Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) in support of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). "And when they say, 'I want my lawyer,' you tell them, 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer.'"

No recent piece of legislation has been more controversial than the NDAA, which passed the Senate last week and includes provisions that apparently grant the president unlimited power to detain American citizens arrested in connection to terrorism. The House approved its version of the NDAA earlier this year, so the legislature must hammer out differences and present a final version to President Barack Obama. For his part, Obama has threatened to veto the legislation not because it tramples on civil liberties but because it subject executive actions to congressional oversight.

Earlier this fall, Reason's Matt Welch talked to Laura Pitter, counterterrorism adviser for Human Rights Watch. "The terms in the bill are so vague that it can really be applied to anyone the U.S. deems is an enemy," says Pitter, who underscores that federal courts are far more effective and efficient when it comes to prosecuting terrorism-related cases. Since the 9/11 attacks, she notes, federal criminal courts have resolved over 400 terrorism-related cases while military commissions have prosecuted just six cases.

Approximately 5 minutes.

Camera by Meredith Bragg and Joshua Swain; produced by Swain.

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