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Homeland insecurity

New defense bill will trash your rights



What's going on with the mysterious "Homeland Battlefield" provisions contained in the new National Defense Appropriation Act?

The measure passed the Senate 97-3, with both of Montana's Democratic senators voting for it. President Obama has threatened to veto it if the mysterious provisions are not removed. It's one promise we can hope he keeps.

The Defense Appropriation Act is a charade. While professing they're working to reduce spending and get the budget under control, Democrats and Republicans are dipping into the cookie jar to throw another $660 billion at the Pentagon for next year. That 's $1.8 billion a day, or more than $2 million per minute, to defend the world's only superpower.

While they're happy to dump another pot of gold down the black hole of military spending, Congress and the President continue to debate whether and how to cut vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Meanwhile, it's not the vast expense of the Defense Appropriation Act that has the White House and Congress at one another's throats—it's the language of the act and how that will restrict what the White House says are its options for dealing with terrorists.

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The problems start with the way the act was drafted—in secret, by Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat. Had the public been given a chance to vet it, the outcry could have killed the suspect additions. People could have insisted on a clean appropriations act.

But that didn't happen—and now, in the words of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who supports it, the act will declare that "America is part of the battlefield." What that means is that Congress would effectively overturn the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which says the military cannot be used for domestic law enforcement. Our armed forces will be able to detain "covered" people indefinitely, at home and abroad, without regard to such former staples of our legal system as habeas corpus or, for that matter, the Bill of Rights. And so much for being innocent until proven guilty.

The covered people could be anyone who has substantially supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. But under the vague terms of the act, our military could conceivably detain anyone who, say, protests the creation of new theaters in George Bush's and Obama's wars on terror. Would carrying a sign, staging a sit-in or protesting against war fit the definition here of "a belligerent act"? Some people who are concerned with our liberties and rights say there's a chance that Obama or a future president could use this measure to snatch U.S. citizens at home, detain them indefinitely or do pretty much anything else they wish—and the detainees would have no access to our civilian courts.

Surely this is why Obama should be threatening to veto the act.

But it's not.

What's got the White House, the defense secretary, the FBI director, the National Intelligence Agency director and the U.S. attorney general concerned is that the bill will still "jeopardize the national security by restricting flexibility in our fight against Al-Qaeda," according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Just when we thought the insane Bush wars were winding down and the troops could come home, what we get instead is the war brought home.

Earlier this week a reader emailed me, wondering "why Baucus and Tester signed on to the NDAA, which effectively ends the Constitution and Bill of Rights in this country. I called their respective offices but the aides did not understand the bill. I am puzzled as to why so many senators supported this bill?"

Public approval for Congress is now in single digits. You'd think maybe they'd get the message, that the public has had it with their secret bill drafts and the exclusion of those they're supposed to represent from the formulation of policy.

Obama's got nothing to brag about on this one. Still, with Congress covering its ears, his veto is the best thing we can hope for.

Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at

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