Sen. Kerry should take the lead to stop indefinite detentions of American citizens

ACLU of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose posted the following on the On Liberty blog.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is one of the most powerful men in government. A decorated war hero and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Kerry brings both honor and influence to his work. His voice carries weight.

Like others, I carry with me a memory of John Kerry upon his return from the Vietnam war, bravely testifying before Congress in an act of courage and conscience. His willingness to speak out against a war that was endangering our country is how we knew that Kerry was a hero. It’s what got him elected to office.

Now, again, our nation needs John Kerry to stand up for freedom.

Congress is about to pass a National Defense Authorization Act (the bill that funds our troops) with truly scary provisions that would permit the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians -- including American citizens -- anywhere in the world.

This bill is a historic threat to American citizens and others because it expands and makes permanent the ability of the military to imprison American citizens without charge or trial. If it becomes law, American citizens and others are at real risk of being locked away by the military without charge or trial.

It’s hard to imagine anything more antithetical to our democracy or our liberty. No wonder Massachusetts citizens will be protesting the NDAA provisions at Dewey Square on December 15 -- the anniversary of our Bill of Rights.

Senator Kerry already is on the record voting for amendments that -- had they passed -- would have limited the military’s unchecked detention power. He’s not alone. The Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the FBI, the Director of the CIA and the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division have all said that the indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA are harmful and counterproductive to their work.

The White House has threatened to veto the NDAA over these provisions. But President Obama needs support from respected national leaders like Senator Kerry if he is to follow through on the veto threat.

It’s time for Senator Kerry to step up and use his power and influence to voice his opposition – loudly and in public – against this ill-fated attempt to dismantle the due process protections that have kept America safe and free for more than 222 years.

For years, the people of Massachusetts have looked to John Kerry to defend against threats to our democracy and to our liberty.

Let us not lose these freedoms on his watch.

UPDATE: December 15, 2011

Read the ACLU's letter to Senator Kerry.

The White House signaled on Wednesday, December 14, 2011, that President Obama no longer plans to veto this measure.

National ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show last night to talk about the serious problems that remain in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The latest version of the bill now exempts U.S. citizens from the requirement for "terror suspects" to be held in military custody--but this relatively minor adjustment is overshadowed by the fact that the measure permits the indefinite detention without charge or trial of anyone, including U.S. citizens on American soil. "It was an awful bill before, and it is an awful bill now," Jaffer told Maddow.

This measure further sidelines the Bill of Rights and fundamental liberties, codifying in law a power that the Bush administration merely claimed, under the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed on Sept. 18, 2001.

Something very similar happened when the FISA Amendments Act of 2007 gave legitimacy to warrantless wiretaps, and which, together with the so-called Patriot Act, eviscerates the Fourth Amendment protection against "unreasonable searches and seizures". The NDAA now undermines the Fifth Amendment right not to be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law", the Sixth Amendment right to "a speedy and public trial", and the Seventh Amendment right to a trial by jury.

We must be absolutely clear: measures like the NDAA are destroying constitutional rights that were in place for more than two centuries. We urge President Obama to veto this bill.