The White House signalled on Wednesday that President Obama will not veto the National Defense Authorization Act recently approved by the House and Senate.
The defense spending bill includes a provision allowing for the indefinite detention without trial of al-Qaida suspects and their "allies." Allies as defined in the bill could include U.S. citizens.
The president had previously threatened to veto the bill, but an amendment softening the language - giving the White House authority to issues waivers - apparently won over reluctant Senate Democrats and alleviated the Oval Office's concerns.
The fears of civil liberties groups however have not been allayed. Human Rights Watch said, "By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law. In the past, Obama has lauded the importance of being on the right side of history, but today he is definitely on the wrong side."
The ACLU, which had been leading a campaign against the legislation, concurred, saying, "If President Obama signs this bill, it will damage both his legacy and America's reputation for upholding the rule of law,"
They are correct. Make no mistake, the president's approval of the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens is another dangerous step in the wrong direction.
Recall that just a few months ago U.S. citizens were placed on the CIA's targeted assassination list.
In light of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, without trial, assurances that a Democratic president would not abuse the privilege ring hollow. And even if abuse would not be an issue under President Obama, there would no such "guarantee" should a Republican win the White House.
Remember that not so long ago, patriots of South Africa's African National Congress were called terrorists by Republican administrations - and not just the ANC.
In the fight against terrorism the rule of law should not be thrown out the window. Indeed, even the terrorists of the Nazi high command were tried and convicted by an international court of law.
And for good reason: arbitrariness and selective persecution of enemies real and imagined could easily result in aggravation of the very problems they were attempting to resolve, as the McCarthy period demonstrated.
Call President Obama. Tell him to veto the National Defense Authorization Act.
Photo: Steve Rhodes // CC 2.0