No Muss, No Fuss, No More Habeas Corpus

Lest there be any confusion about where Mitt Romney stands currently on the domestic police-state issue, know this: he likes it. Romney cheered the controversial indefinite detention portion of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) during the Jan. 16 Fox News debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

“Yes, I would have,” said Romney when asked whether he would have signed the legislation as President Obama did. Members of the crowd — most likely supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who believes the bill is unconstitutional — booed him.

“I do believe it is appropriate to have in our nation the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country, who are members of al-Qaeda. Look, you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues, but you don’t have a right to join a group that has challenged America and has threatened killing Americans, has killed Americans, and has declared war against America. That’s treason. In this country we have a right to take those people and put them in jail.

The crowd loudly applauded this response.

Romney then said that while he disagreed with Obama on most matters, he would give him the benefit of the doubt not to abuse the powers in the NDAA.

“I recognize that in a setting where they are enemy combatants and some of them on our own soil, that could be abused,” he said. “There are lots of things I think this president does wrong — lots of them — but I don’t think he will abuse this power, and if I were president I would not abuse this power.

Other members of the crowd again booed Romney.

In retrospect, the booing at the conclusion of his remarks might have startled Romney. After all, Past-Romney made this remark off the cuff — dangerous, gaffe-infested territory for a guy like him. Wait a few days and Future-Romney will likely articulate a perfectly contradictory stance, fresh from focus-group polling.

The indefinite detention mini-bill, smuggled as it was inside the “must-pass” NDAA, rates as the biggest civil rights issue of the election thus far. Besides Ron Paul, none of the other candidates seemed willing to discuss it.

Until that moment in the Myrtle Beach debate, it appeared none of the other candidates would be forced to discuss it. After all, offensive versions of the NDAA have been floating around since as early as mid-November. Yet debate moderators and campaign reporters had not deemed the indefinite detention of citizens without trial among the “wide range of issues” acceptable for debates or courtly conversation.

Written in secret by John McCain and Carl Levin, this expansion of the 2001 AUMF codifies authority of the president to arbitrarily declare U.S. citizens “enemy combatants” on U.S. soil, detain them indefinitely, and suspend their right to a trial.

Yet this change warranted no alarm in the establishment media.

Obama issued skeptical public statements about the bill before it passed, of course — even suggesting that he’d veto it if his concerns about how the measure applied to citizens weren’t accommodated. Meanwhile, however, Carl Levin revealed on the Senate floor that it was actually the Obama administration that “lobbied to remove language from the bill that would have protected American citizens from being detained indefinitely without trial.”

Given Obama’s previous stance that the president holds the authority to execute American citizens without trial, why would any reasonable voter disbelieve Levin’s assertion and Obama’s duplicity?

Further, why should any reasonable voter believe the supposed reservations Obama put in his signing statement? If the president truly held such strong concerns about the possibility of citizen abuse, there was one plain heroic option for him: veto the offensive bill and demand a version without the indefinite detention portions. That would actually prevent future administrations from exploiting those likely paths to abuse, unlike his signing statement.

If Obama troubled himself to provide, at face value, supposed assurance that his administration would not apply this new power to U.S. citizens, whose interests does Obama serve by establishing this capacity for abuse by unpredictable future presidents?

Heroic columnist Glenn Greenwald notes:

Section (1) is basically a re-statement of the 2001 AUMF. But Section (2) is a brand new addition. It allows the president to target not only those who helped perpetrate the 9/11 attacks or those who harbored them, but also: anyone who “substantially supports” such groups and/or “associated forces.” Those are extremely vague terms subject to wild and obvious levels of abuse (see what law professor Jonathan Hafetz told me in an interview last week about the dangers of those terms). This is a substantial statutory escalation of the War on Terror and the president’s powers under it, and it occurs more than 10 years after 9/11, with Osama bin Laden dead, and with the U.S. government boasting that virtually all al-Qaeda leaders have been eliminated and the original organization (the one accused of perpetrating 9/11 attack) rendered inoperable.

In fact, Sen. Rand Paul killed an amendment to the NDAA that “would have allowed the U.S. government to detain an American citizen indefinitely, even after they had been tried and found not guilty, until Congress declares an end to the war on terror.” No longer deemed a threat by whom?

So not only did the political establishment seek the arbitrary authority to deem political enemies “enemy combatants” and banish them to a military gulag indefinitely, but it also sought to preemptively defuse any troublesome obstacles to that banishment — such as an acquittal in a criminal trial where rules of evidence apply.

That is absolutely depraved.

Nevertheless, Obama signed the bill into law, meaning that any sitting president can now declare that you, an ordinary American citizen of the otherwise-regarded 99%, are a member of al-Qaeda or another “terrorist” organization, whatever that means.

The military can investigate, apprehend, and detain you — the suspected enemy combatant — indefinitely, without trial, literally from your backyard. No muss, no fuss, no more posse comitatus. No more habeas corpus, either, as you’d have no “right” to a trial to determine where you were legitimately guilty of having committed an actual crime.

When Romney voiced his enthusiasm for such a power, the crowd of South Carolina Republicans cheered.

Liberals: do you really want another George W. Bush or Dick Cheney wielding this officially sanctioned power over dissenters and political enemies? Conservatives: could it get qualitatively worse than Obama and Eric Holder using this power? What about a President Hillary Clinton?

But don’t worry: Mitt Romney says that he’ll give Obama “the benefit of the doubt” not to abuse the power. Oh, and Mitt promises not to abuse that power, either, should he become president.

Do you feel reassured? Isn’t it nice to see the 1% stick up for each other when it really matters? Never buy into the wailing about how Washington, D.C., needs more bipartisanship.

These solemn political brandings of citizens as enemies of the state will certainly be based on the partisan advice of the president’s secret advisers, whose consultations they’ll undoubtedly claim are protected by the “national security” trump card.

Thankfully, that trump card loses potency with frequent use.

Judging by Ron Paul’s success in Iowa and New Hampshire, it seems that people — conservatives, finally — are starting to recognize that the warmongering neoconservative media personalities they’ve uncritically followed all these years led them down a primrose path to a fatally flawed worldview constructed on a logical contradiction.

After all, to paraphrase Limbaugh, Levin, Beck, and Hannity, the federal government’s incompetence and duplicity taint each and every subject they touch, injecting each one with boundless bungling and unintended consequences for taxpayers. That applies whether the topic is delivering mail, conducting reasonable travel screening, or managing the nation’s health care, retirement, or financial systems.

Yet when it comes to “national security,” the threat posed by Iran, or terrorists and their motivations, these “ditto-head” conservatives uncritically elevate the word of government to an unquestionable gold standard. They embrace the federal pronouncements, the state-serving propaganda, as a testament of faith.

Therefore, when Romney, the once-again presumed frontrunner, promises not to abuse tyrannical arbitrary power befitting a king, the ditto-heads refuse to ponder it any further.

It all boils down to sincerity. Whom do voters believe? Candidates pay their supporters in promises. Everything’s more about what they promise to do than what they’ve already done. That’s the only explanation for how Romney’s outrageous record of gratuitous flip-flopping hasn’t yet proven a fatal flaw. However, that flip-flopping has undoubtedly factored into the “anybody but Romney” dynamic so far.

Most candidates spend a considerable amount of energy either distracting from or framing the interpretation of their résumés because, invariably, those résumés overflow with glaring examples that contradict the promises they’re currently making.

In his own words, Romney admits to synchronicity between himself and Obama when it comes to detaining citizens indefinitely without trial — the biggest civil rights issue of the election.

On this particular issue, unfortunately, I think that you can trust his word.

Author: Dave Trotter

Dave Trotter is a technical communications manager living in central Texas. Follow him on Twitter.