It is no news that President Obama has been a disappointment to civil liberties advocates (among other segments of the coalition that helped to elect him). But Obama may have hit a new low by retreating from his threat to veto the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), the annual military appropriations bill passed by Congress last week.
The NDAA contains a number of highly problematic detention provisions that undermine the US' traditions, commitment to human rights and security. Those provisions solidify indefinite detention, militarise US criminal justice and counter-terrorism policy, and entrench Guantanamo, making it more difficult to close the prison. The legislation paradoxically goes much further on these issues than anything Congress did during the Bush administration. More than a decade after 9/11, lawmakers appear intent on institutionalising and expanding the "War on Terror", rather than scaling it back.
The NDAA, for the first time, legislates indefinite military detention. Under the bill, any person who is "part of" or who "substantially supports" al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or an "associated" group may be imprisoned without being charged with a crime.
Lower courts, to be sure, have construed an existing statute, the 2001 Authorisation for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to provide a similar detention power. But the NDAA for the first time expressly codifies indefinite detention, making this power more difficult to challenge and more easy to wield aggressively.