As His Anti-Detainment Amendment to the NDAA Loses in the House, Justin Amash Reminds the Floor That the Constitution Protects People, Not Just Citizens


After a midnight debate on the House floor, the Smith-Amash anti-indefinite detainment amendment (sponsored by Reps. Adam Smith and Justin Amash and supported by other congresskids) to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) failed. The final vote was 182-237, with a mere 19 Republicans joined the unsurprisingly crashed anti-detainment party.

(The GOP's toothless pro-Habeas Corpus Amendment passed, but that, as Mother Jones notes, is not the point of contention. The point is that accusations of terrorism are a catch-all for completely destroying civil liberties.) So, hello $640 billion NDAA 2013! Detainment powers intact! And always with increased military spending. (Four billion more!)

So, what now? We're doomed to choke on our own empire-buildig, right?

Unless U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest's blocking of the worst bits of the NDAA holds up, that is. And her judgement that plaintiff and journalist Chris Hedges had the standing to actually challenge the NDAA definitely bodes well, but the death of the Smith-Amash amendment is not good.

Still, to grasp at further straws of optimism, last night Amash actually managed to sneak onto the House floor a bracing reminder that even with all the (righteous) panic over American citizens being detained most people forgot that non-citizens within the borders of the country are supposed to have protections, too. Constitutional protections apply to "persons" not just "citizens" railed Amash. Check it out.

Amash expresses a Ron Paul-like opposition to unconstitutional wars. He has also raised the very Paul-like point about how gosh, we think it's just a little intervention with a few airstrikes in instances like Libya, but a couple of foreign planes over America would make everyone agree that this is a war. 

Meanwhile, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs/Now Heritage Foundation expert Charles Stimson helped draft a letter which objected to the failed amendment. Stimson claimed on Fox News earlier this week that the Amash-Smith amendment would "encourage terrorists" to come to the U.S. Also, "we're still at war" and it's bad to "take any options off the table." Others folks, such as Congressman Tom Rooney, are of the opinion that that Amash is interested in "coddling terrorists." 

No. Amash is just that disturbingly rare creature (especially among politicians) who remembers two oft-forgotten facts. In the orgy of murderous self-absorption that is foreign policy, it helps to recall that people who weren't lucky enough to be born Americans are in fact still people; And to defend suspected terrorists is not to defend terrorism. The government doesn't exactly have a flawless record in grabbing the right people. And to defend the rights of non-citizens from detainment without charge is not to defend the guy caught flying over Detroit with a lit fuse in his underwear. It's to defend the the hundreds of thousands of other, grayer cases than that. 

And really, since the war on terror has no end, how long do people like Stimson think "we are still at war" will hold up as an excuse? (Forever. The answer is forever.) 

He also argued the old standby that the NDAA "simply codifies" what was already law. (U.S. District Judge Forrest disagrees with this Obama-friendly argument.) But laws that were once envelope-pushing outrage become more and more just precedent upon precedent. And then Americans (and people all over the world) lose more and more freedom. I've already just about accepted the NDAA. I'm waiting for the next government thing now.

Reason on the NDAA, on Justin Amash, and on the war on terror