There are a lot of acronyms in the news lately.

You might have heard of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect-IP Act) and recent newcomers – CISPA (The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) and NDRP (National Defense Resources Preparedness). There’s ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), ACA (Affordable Care Act) and also PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), essentially the same thing, with two different names.

And then there’s NDAA. The National Defense Authorization Act.

What is NDAA?

The National Defense Authorization Act is a United States federal law specifying the budget and expenditures of the United States Department of Defense. (Wiki) The purpose of this bill is to authorize appropriations for military activities of the Department of Defense, every fiscal year. This bill authorizes spending for military construction, Department of Energy defense activities, prescribing military personnel strengths, and for other purposes. Like many congressional bills, there are often other ‘little’ provisions attached that may, or may not have anything to do with the bill they are attached to – and 2012 is not the first year to see controversy swirling around the passage of this annual bill.

A significant, but underreported provision in the NDAA for fiscal year 2007 (H.R. 5122) know as the “John Warner National Defense Authorization Act”, expanded the President’s power to declare Martial Law for basically any reason in order to “suppress public disorder” and gave the President the power to take control of National Guard troops without congressional authorization or State Governor approval. (This provision was repealed in 2008.)

In 2010 there was a small provision attached known as the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). After contentious debate, it was stripped out of the NDAA and passed as a separate bill in congress that year.

Why the 2012 NDAA is a big deal

Two little sub-sections, 1021 and 1022, under the Counter-Terrorism provision “would allow the military to detain anyone it suspects ‘substantially supported’ terrorists or their ‘associated forces,’ and would allow the military to keep them detained until ‘the end of hostilities.’ ” It also “creates a space for the indefinite detention of targeted individuals, including US citizens, and denies their protections under Habeas Corpus.” (Source: The Sparrow Project) In a nutshell, it allows the government to detain anyone it believes to be involved in terrorism (including American citizens), in military prisons, without trial, indefinitely. No due process, no judicial oversite – a direct violation of the Bill of Rights.

Of great concern in these two sections of the bill is the vagueness of the language. The broader the language of any legislation or law, the broader the interpretations of that legislation or law may be when enacted or enforced. In this case, there is great concern that ‘substantially supported’ and ‘associated forces’ could be broadly interpreted to include the activities of journalists and non-violent activists, while the use of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ has been continually revised and broadened since the Patriot Act was signed into law in Oct. 2001.

After the legislation passed through Congress, it landed on the President’s desk for signing. President Obama addressed these controversial provisions in a signing statement which read in part, “I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation.” Some would argue that Obama has broken promises before, but even if he keeps his word, his successors are free to act as they deem necessary under this law. Where does that leave American citizens and what does it mean for our Constitutional rights? ✻

Additional Reading…