United States of Indefinite Detention

Let me tell you a story to illustrate how seriously US citizens should take loss of liberties in the 21st century. In late October I was in Annecy, France. After my fluency test and four weeks of French improvement, I found myself in a youth hostel. I’ve spent a lot of time in such places this year, and I knew the drill. I started a conversation with the girl in the bunk above me, who was a very nice woman of about my age from mainland China. She’d moved to Paris for work and was on vacation. We talked about culture, language-learning, and *gasp* politics.

I mentioned the Occupy Wall Street protests, and highlighted how many people had been arrested. Her face turned white, her eyes widening.

“But…will they be released?”

For a moment I wondered why she looked so terrified. Then I remembered what happens to the thousands arrested for political dissent in China. They have no right to a speedy public trial. They are sometimes held without charge for years. They often simply disappear.

“Oh…” I stammered, “Of course. They will probably be out within a few days on bail.”

She went back to arranging her belongings, a dark cloud over her face. I didn’t pry into what personal experiences she may have had with indefinite detention for political dissent. At the time, I didn’t want to offend her. I may soon have experiences of my own to cloud my mind, thanks to new bills passed by my own representative government.

Watch that video. It if doesn’t make you feel a chill at seeing the true state of Freedom of Speech in the USA today, I’m not sure that I can help to open your eyes. An unidentified woman with blue hair leads a Mic Check in Grand Central Station in New York. She is interrupted by uniformed members of NYPD and dragged away, even though none of the other protesters repeating after her are. I dare you to find a clearer-cut example of suppression of political speech in a public venue.

Despite the fact that I am now a full-fledged member of a progressive and transpolitical radio show and my Twitter feed is full of stories about recent complete failures in US politics and legislation, I’ve mostly stayed away from the issues here out of misaligned respect for my readers. No more.

Prepare for some scary shit.

What was Laura, the woman leading the protest in the video, talking about? The newly-signed National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. It was signed into law on New Year’s Eve by President Obama, after an all-but-cursory hour long debate in the Senate and House of Representatives respectively. The bill passed the Senate by an overwhelming 93-7 vote and by a wide majority in the House. This bill essentially does away with the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution by requiring indefinite military custody of terrorists and those with whom they associate. Yes, also US citizens. Yes, also on US soil. Yes, anywhere else.

The Obama Administration opposed the passage of the bill initially, first saying that it was against our collective principles and threatened a veto, but then issued a statement condemning the bill for not granting the President enough power to detain accused terrorists without trial or change.

The worst part? One need not even be a terrorist. One only needs to be associated with them. However loosely that might be remains to be seen.

The last time this kind of bill passed Congress, the United States was in the throes of Macarthyism and the Red Scare. Thousands were blacklisted for being associated with communism (most of them innocent), and many were imprisoned during the nationwide witchhunt of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Don’t think it couldn’t happen again. This bill is dangerous to the very principles upon which this country was founded. But wait, there’s more! Congress is currently preparing to vote on another bill to limit US citizens, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This bill would severely curtail activity allowed on the internet, and along with another bill (PROTECT-IP) could allow for the monitoring and criminalization of sharing links, videos, and news over this medium. Other countries with such restrictions include China, Turkey, and Iran.

This week, the headquarters of Global Revolution Live, a non-associated media outlet that covers many subjects not limited to the Occupy Wall Street movement, was raided by the NYPD. They confiscated or damaged much of the equipment on hand, and arrested five members of the news team. I’m shocked that there hasn’t been more coverage of this clear case of supression. It reminds me of the Red Scare and the HUAC. It reminds me of supression of dissent in China and Myanmar. And this is only the first.

Congress will vote on SOPAand PROTECT-IP this month, which have been labeled as acts that would break the internet as we know it. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and other major internet players are considering a “nuclear option” in the form of a 24-hour blackout in protest. You’ll know when you can’t access your services on January 24.

Between the fuzzy language of NDAA on the definition of who can be detained under its broad-reaching powers and the power to suppress undesirable posting on the internet with SOPA, the potential for innocent people to be caught up and detained without charge is much higher than it should be in any self-respecting “Democracy.” These laws directly contradict the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and potentially 8th amendments to our Constitution. 60% of the Bill of Rights, removed by what feels like the three sole acts that actually had chances to pass the gridlocked Congress in the last year.

Back to the moment of true conversation in Annecy.

“Um…forgive me if this is too forward,” I ventured to my Chinese friend. “But…do you like your government?”

She smiled. The dark cloud was still clinging to the corners of her eyes.

“Oh…no…not at all. Most people our age want China to change and become more democratic.”

She paused.

“We base our hopes on America. We want to be like you.”

Now a slight dark cloud encroached on the corners of my own eyes.

“I wish I didn’t have to tell you about people getting arresting for protesting in my country.”

“It’s very disappointing. I worry for the United States.”

Me too. Me too.

2 thoughts on “United States of Indefinite Detention

  1. Merci pour ces informations Coleen.
    C’est important pour nous, français, qui avons du mal à penser et à agir.

    Courage !

    1. C’est la chose la plus choquante pour moi…que les personnes savent ce qui se passe, mais ils n’agit pas.

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