"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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  1. Okay - "kill us all"? Really, Lindsay? And last I checked, American citizens were entitled to legal representation after asking for it.

    Team Red and Team Blue really need to get their stories straight about terrorism: is it just like any other crime, to be treated with due process and the like; or, does it deserve battlefield treatment, with justice served up by bayonet?

    1. are hostiles in civilian clothes captured on foreign battlefields entitled to due process?

      1. foreign battlefields are outside the jurisdiction of the US legal system. Hint: "foreign" usually means in another country. Due process for hostiles in such circumstances tends to be swift.

        1. How about un-uniformed combatants on US soil? Just because the Rosenbergs got a fair trial before execution does not mean it was the right decision.

          1. weren't the Rosenbergs executed?

            1. What part of "before execution" did you not understand?

    2. Terrorists are a threat to the liberties all Americans enjoy. Therefore, we must do away with those liberties, or the terrorists will win.

      (Reasoning as per the American legislature)

  2. So Lindsay Graham's all fucked up on civil rights? Fuck him.

    Also, for good measure, fuck California.


  3. If you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to hide.

    Slippery slope is just a fallacy that never really comes about.

    etc, etc.

  4. Hope.




  5. "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

    The whole point of a trial is to prove that the citizen has done whatever he is being accused of. That is what "presumed innocent" means. If you prove someone guilty of terrorist acts, feel free to detain and interrogate all you need to.

  6. Oh brother! Here comes another tsunami of Reason commenters who will trade American lives for liberty and it makes me sick that more people don't oppose terrorism. 9/11 was an assault on America by foreign terrorists and we should not just let them get away with it. Terrorism does not care about liberty and 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. How would you like it if your mother, wife or especially your child were killed by a terrorist attack like 9/11? Would you still want liberty or would you want to end terrorism. It is unprincipled people like you libertarians that coddle terrorists and put the entire country at risk. I am glad that congress it getting serious about these threats even if they are American citizens. Terrorists kill so we should kill terrorists.

    1. "Would you still want liberty or would you want to end terrorism."

      Your logic is as good as your grammar, you imply a dichotomy where none exists. If you want to surrender your civil rights and "trust" whatever any politician wants to do, good luck. Personally, I don't.

      I guess we are lucky that accusation is guilt and you know who all the terrorists are.

      1. No no...he doesn't know who all the terrorists are, he just trusts the infallible and omniscient top. men. in the government to know who they are!

        1. Exactly! Very similar to how the Nazis KNEW exactly the superior race, religion, and sexual preference

          1. You have to remember that the bill isn't talking about people who are caught in the act of terrorism, but 'suspected sympathizers' also. What does that mean? In a world where the head of DHS designates most right wing politicos as possible terrorists are you willing to give them the ability to indefinitely detain suspects? Richard Jewell would still be in prison if it were up to this legislation.

    2. Kill yourself. May your children die in a car wreck so your seed is wiped from the world.

      1. I second this suggestion.

      2. For the sake of my children, this seems scarily appropriate.

    3. ur thinkin too far down the road booy

    4. Would you still want liberty or would you want to end terrorism.

      If a million years of human evolution haven't ended terrorism, a piece of paper written by assholes probably won't. I'll take my remaining freedom thank you very much.

    5. This would be trivial if terrorists all wore badges and uniforms--then we could tell who they were, and indefinitely detain them as this guy suggests.
      But we don't know who they are, so we need to rely on properly documented procedures to make sure we don't kill innocent people in our desire to make America safe. That's called the rule of law. It's a security device against possible misuse of these powers.
      Of course, if we always trust our masters to get it right, we need not worry. Right? And I always trust Team Red. Or is it Team Blue? I can never remember which is which. Or which one is currently in power.
      The whole point of limited government and due process is to make sure that governments are properly constrained so they don't become terrorists themselves. Mr. Gamecocks doesn't seem to understand that. These days there's much more likelihood of a government illegally imprisoning someone than a bunch of losers somewhere in Afghanistan or Yemen being able to build a hydrogen bomb.

    6. [slow clap]

      I for one appreciate viscious virtues.

      Can we get a picture of the statue of liberty crying, perhaps with a bald eagle on her shoulder to go with that?

    7. Finally, somebody gets it. Don't waste your breath, 'cocks, because these guys are all a bunch of limp-wristed peaceniks.

      And btw, SC sucks. Go Dawgs.

    8. "Oh brother! Here comes another tsunami of Reason commenters who will trade American lives for liberty"

      You mean like the US did during WWII?

      1. The Greatest Generation was made of brave soldiers of WWII who died so that America could spread Democracy and Freedom throughout the world. Sixty years later there are people here who want to destroy America. Is it fair to those who died on the battlefield and in the World Trade Towers to let terrorists win? Gamecock and Alan are right. You libertarians are limp-wristed peaceniks who want to coddle terrorists. In my day we would kick their asses back to Iran.

        1. right. The Greatest Generation became the Greediest Generation with its never-ending pissing and moaning about "mah soshul and medicah benefits". Every time a Paul Ryan talks about runaway entitlements, your group is first in line to condemn it.

          We've spent tens of billions and hundreds of lives in chasing the Twin Towers perpetrators. And, you have clearly misunderstood the mission of WWII. It was NOT about spreading anything across the world; it was about stopping the evil of Naziism and, by extension, Imperial Japan. One unintended consequence was the rise of the Soviet Union.

          The terrorists asses ARE pretty much contained to that part of the world. And, then you gave us the Boomer generation, speaking of destroying America.

        2. Boy do you have a fucked up sense of victory.

          Stripping our liberties is what the terrorists want. Idiots like you who are willing to hand over your liberties in the name of huntin' down terrorists are giving Al'Qaeda a hard-on. Fucking imbecile.

        3. "Is it fair to let the terrorists win?... In my day we would kick their asses back to Iran."

          No one is really that small minded and stupid, right? No one is that cliched and tunnel visioned that they'd parrot out "let the terrorists win" in a serious conversation? It's either got to be a poorly done fake, or someone so blatantly ignorant of history and geography they rival the five year olds I know.

          Panther, if you "kick" the terrorists' and those who destroyed the World Trade Towers' asses back to a country, it would not be Iran. I'll give you a hint, dear. Osama Bin Laden. He was the leader of a terrorist group that originated in a Middle Eastern country with which we are currently at war. His country of origin starts with an 'A.' Still having trouble?

          Tell me,

          1. *Delete the "Tell me," there at the end. Whoops.

          2. "His country of origin starts with an 'A.' Still having trouble?"

            Well, yes, Saudi Arabia starts with an 'S'.

      2. this is a weak argument. we were perfectly willing to stand aside history, and let jews be slaughtered, and hitler go about his merry way. it wasn't until we were attacked, that we said "well fuck you, buddy"

        we were NOT willing to trade american lives for the war "over there" until we were attacked.

        right or wrong.

    9. Reason commenters who will trade American lives for liberty and it makes me sick that more people don't oppose terrorism.

      Fucking due process! How do they work?!

      1. they work damn well. reasonoid bigot trolls only oppose due process when it comes to cops.

        i support it for everybody 🙂

    10. you know its funny game so far the only ones i see destroying america are the ones wearing the suits using troll logic to get bills like this passed.

      terrorist? compared to these people there they barly register.

    11. I'll gladly trade Lindsey Graham's life for liberty.

      1. Ted S, i laughed out loud, thanks. still laughing.

    12. Oh brother! Here comes another tsunami of Reason commenters who will trade American lives for liberty

      I'll gladly trade Lindsey Graham's life for liberty.

    13. "Here comes another tsunami of Reason commenters who will trade American lives for liberty..."

      Fuck you slaver!

    14. "Terrorism does not care about liberty and 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. "

      Let me let you in on a little secret fascist. The second you forsake due process, you ARE Al Qaeda!

    15. I would expect this out of a mouth-breathing, sister-raping, garnet and black wearing mongoloid.


    16. So... You remember about a year or so ago when Janet Napolitano, Obama-appointed Czar and head of the National Homeland Security Administration put out a terror watch list which classified Obamacare bill opponents, pro-lifers, veterans, people with "Don't tread on me" flags, and Ron Paul supporters as "Right Wing Extremists," and thus, potentially terrorists?
      Yes, this DHS report is linked from neocon Michelle Malkin:

      Malkin, like other neocons wouldn't bat an eye before they'd support crap like the DAA or Patriot Act.

      Yet, they'd wholeheartedly give these powers to an administration who might potentially use the powers they have against the people listed in the above mentioned terror watch list.


      That just goes to show you how nonsensical neocons are. Even if the current administration has boldly listed regular American citizens as its enemies, they see no reason why they shouldn't give said administration more power to directly violate rights.

      Neocon thinking: Any bill that has the name anti terrorist or national defense in it = Good.

    17. Let me get this right, Cock...How does supporting the rule of law and due process equate to lack of opposition to terrorism in your fucked up universe?

      Did you stop and rub those two braincells together before you started typing?

      How 'bout this --- you're a terrorist. I have some evidence. Fuck the trial, I said you're a terrorist and i've got some "evidence." Unfortunately, we're going to have to kill you now. Sorry, better luck next time.

    18. Gamecocks Lead The Way! - That was a really outstanding troll!

  7. By that logic no one should get a lawyer. Good thing we always know who the guilty guys are without all that evidence and procedure crap.

    1. This is exactly where the chest-thumping he-man logic of the Neo-Con right leads to.

      You want to torture prisoners? I have you beat! I want to torture prisoners in secret prisons!

      Secret prisons? Bah, in my day, we would have loved to have been tortured in these country-club secret prisons. I say we don't give them lawyers.

      1. I want to torture prisoners in secret prisons, AND their lawyers, AND any americans who dare question why the hell I'm torturing the goddamn lawyer, or anyone who's just mouthing the words during the pledge of allegience, or fails to piss themselves in fear whenever i suggest the possibility that everyone NOT AS AMERICAN AS ME WANTS THEM TO DIE RIGHT NOW.

        So in your face

      2. Gotta add the Democrats to that equation, pmains. Remember how many of those fuckers voted for the original "patriot" Act AND haven't bothered to vote out the worst parts (e.g., all) of said Act.

  8. C-. I refuse to believe that people who actually believe this would use html tags for Reason.

    1. And since I failed at threading, I'll accept my own D+ as well.

    2. Good point about HTML. Plus, that rant is too moronic. Spoof.

  9. 'I want my lawyer,' you tell them, 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer.'"

    This of course being a lawyer telling you this.

    Mr Graham used to have semi-reasonable opinions regarding things like immigration, detainee rights etc.

    However, its an election year. Now we have gems like, l immigrants should be compelled by law to learn English, another new position for Graham."

    Thats clearly structured as a handout to the English teachers lobby

  10. A couple of months ago, I was chastised by someone for saying that I expected the US to turn into the Soviet Union as I watched the second tower come down.

    So, to whomever that was, go fuck yourself.

    1. after wallstreet collapsed the economy, i'll buy we've become a criminal oligarchy like russia

        1. open alittle wider & wait for ur surprise !

      1. derp de derpity derp

    2. you should have made a bet with him. thats what i do when i say it.

  11. Pffft, lawyers are for homos. Grow a spine.

  12. So if the state tries to take someone away under this law, the citizen would have the right to resist as necessary, since the act is unconstitutional, right?

    1. I'm pretty sure that's the original intent of the Second.

  13. Congressional Republicans who support this are going to be kicking themselves when Democratic administrations use the provision to detain Christian militia terrorists (and Red State voters) instead of using it exclusively against Muslims.

  14. Why would they give a fuck even then? The militias don't donate > $1,000,000 / year to PAC's.

  15. Barack Obama promised to fundamentally change America. Can't call him a liar.

    1. He also has a standing veto against the legislation. Too bad he would need 27 senators to jump ship to avoid an override.

      But wait, before you assume he's still looking in our best interests, Obama's position is that this bill is inappropriate because it forces more congressional oversight of executive actions.

  16. "'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer.'"

    As much horror as such a state might imply, I really want that fucker to be on the other side of the statement.

  17. "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.'"

    Throw me into that briar patch, Senate bitches!

  18. William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

    Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

    William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

    Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

  19. Meet Silvie - a crazy, lanky, fun girl from Prague who lives life to the maximum.

    Silvie is the ultimate free-spirit and not one to follow the rules! For example, you may have noticed Silvie prefers a more natural look. She tells us that she loves her bush, and says it makes her feel like a lioness; raw and animalistic. Silvie's lifestyle reflects her unconventional personality, not only is she bisexual she is also a naturist.

    She has a typical fashion models body: long skinny arms, long legs and a petite structure but she still has a full bust and curves - which is very rare, a rare gem you could say. All blessings from her mother apparently!

    Nothing is taboo when it comes to Silvie!

  20. I used to think Congress critters were narcissistic,greedy, ignorant, lazy, and corrupt, but now I will add full bore stupid about power politics to the list. The reason the Founders added language to the Constitution specifically detailing the due process requirements for Treason is that the abuse of the accusation (indefinite detention without recourse to trial) wasn't levied against the average citizen but against other members of the powers that be. Go ahead idjits, piss off someone slightly higher up the food chain than yourself and see how quickly you proof or lawyers required.

  21. So, as I understand it, someone in the executive branch can use an utterance to completely strip a person of any and all rights guaranteed by the bill of rights. This on top of all the other unconstitutional crap the washington crowd has piled on us in the last ten years.....
    If they have disposed of the constitution entirely they have delegitimized themselves as a government. If this passes they are just thugs with guns. The noose is too good for them.

  22. ten years of bankrupting military action, overbearing police, civil libz vanishing - game and set to Al Qaeda

  23. One day, people like Gamecock (whether he's for real or not) will be frog-marched down the hall, shoved in a chair, and have a rat cage affixed to their heads. It will finally dawn on them who the real enemy always was.

  24. If an American citizen can be murdered without a trial based on some secret process within the US government, why would people be surprised that an American citizen can be locked up indefinitely without a trial?

    Maybe the reason this isn't getting much coverage in the MSM is because it's considered old news, and in a sense it is. The original A.U.M.F which has always been used to justify locking people up indefinitely without a trial didn't make any exception for American citizens, or for US territory.

    This amendment is confusing because there is mention of an exception for American citizens, but that seems to mean that the government is REQUIRED to put other suspected terrorists in military detention, but it is not REQUIRED to do that with US citizens. It seems to mean that, for them, it would be optional.

    Many people don't worry about this because they have no fear of being mistaken for a terrorist. Even if they recognize that others have been and may be in the future, they aren't bothered because those people are all Muslims. The idea is being sold, including by people like Gingrich, that Muslims are something like communists or Nazis and they're mostly either terrorists or sympathizers, so it doesn't matter what happens to them.

    People are likely further confident that they wont be affected because those who will be, unlike communists, almost all belong to minority ethnic groups such as Arab or Pakistani, some immigrants or second generation immigrants, but not "real" Americans, likely not loyal. And, during the McCarthy era, communists actually were thought to be not entirely, but quite frequently, immigrants, members of minority groups and Jews were particularly suspect.

    It's amazing how easy it is for people to justify this sort of thing, and it's shocking how many people would not bat an eye if the government announced it was going to round up Muslims and put them in camps. And there are others who are actually turned on by the idea of people being tortured or murdered once they've been branded "terrorists" by whatever secret process.

    People can probably feel safe, for now, as long as they aren't foreigners or Muslims. But they should at least know the exceptional power of the US government and that this power is in the hands of one man, the president. They better be very careful about who they elect.

    1. I agree completely. I've drawn the same conclusions with the rhetoric I've seen coming from neocons. Many seem to vilify any and every Muslim as a covert terrorist who wants to destroy everything Americans hold dear.

      On a personal note, a few months after 9/11, my uncle, who is Indian, was called up by the FBI and brought in for questioning. He's INDIAN, last I checked, India was never on a "terror watch list." Not only that, but my uncle was raised a Hindu, not a Muslim, and is now a converted Mormon. So even the neocon line of reasoning doesn't hold up.

      The reasoning for this interrogation? A flight attendant remembered seeing my uncle on a flight around the time of 9/11 and told somebody who mattered.

      Your point about people being mostly safe from being targeted if they're not a foreigner is perfectly accurate.

  25. I was told in federal court that I didn't have a right to a lawyer before being sent to jail for over 4 months without an arraignment or bail hearing.

  26. Has anyone commenting on here actually read the bill? First Red Flag, this is human Rights Watch we're talking about, not the most unbiased of sources, especially when it comes to the US.

    Section 1031, Subsection [b]
    (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.

    Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Ben Franklin

    Investigatr and actually read things before commenting from a point of ignorance.

    1. ok, i'm gonna be ignorant here. the statement "the requirement...does not extend..." is full of holes.
      first, saying that the option does not extend, is NOT saying the option cannot be used;
      2nd, "in military custody" does not mean you cannot be picked up & held; it only means not at a military base. i presume you could be arrested and held in a private "facility".
      the majority of this nation's citizens are basking in the warm waters of ignorance. in a pot. on a metaphorical stove-top.
      if this trend continues, and i think it will, i feel we will one day be living under a dictatorship. if not us [i am 55], then our kids or grandkids.
      i am not feeling hopeful about the long-term future of this great experiment.

  27. 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.

    The Colts' playoff hopes just called to laugh at how effed we are.

  28. The "War on Terror" is the trojan horse that this government will use to gut the Bill of Rights.
    Every tool that they say they need can and will be used against ANYONE who dares to speak against the State.
    When inflation soars (and it will), taxes rise and the dollar becomes meaningless, any and all street protests will be deemed threats to national security.
    WHY would your govt. give the armed forces arrest & detain powers WITHIN the borders.
    THIS is how Germany became the Third Reich.

  29. Prognosis lives!

  30. They are lucky if they don't get a lawyer. A lawyer will only rob them blind and have zero interest in their case. The Underwear Bomber had the right idea. It's better if you defend yourself!!!

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