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Understanding the 2012 NDAA

By December 26, 2011

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Benjamin Wittes' excellent article "NDAA: A Guide for the Perplexed" begins: "The volume of sheer, unadulterated nonsense zipping around the internet about the NDAA boggles the mind." It does. (Wittes' article is, I think, a necessary antidote.) But the question of why it's so hard for the blogosphere to get the basic details right cuts to the heart of why civil liberties is becoming an issue in the 2012 election, and in several distinct ways:

  1. It reveals Obama's betrayal of his original platform. Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 as somebody who was going to end extraordinary rendition and indefinite detention, shut down the gulag at Guantanamo Bay, reduce immigrant deportations, end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, and limit the power of the executive branch. He has done none of these things, and it's understandable for some of his supporters to become angry enough about this betrayal that they're likely to read things into the NDAA that aren't actually there. (Glenn Greenwald, who has his own take on NDAA, seems to be reframing his entire career around this.)
  2. It provides an opportunity for Republicans. While the Bush administration pioneered unconstitutional post-9/11 antiterrorism policy, GOP candidates can now cite Obama's unwillingness to reverse them as a campaign issue. So far, only Ron Paul has done so--though, as I'll explain in tomorrow's blog entry, Rep. Paul has problems of his own--but the more Obama is associated with post-9/11 indefinite detention policies, the easier it is to present "big government" as an all-encompassing issue involving both fiscal policy and civil liberties.
  3. It allows Occupy supporters, and others on the left who are apprehensive about Obama, to clearly distance themselves from the political establishment. This is necessary in order for a broader, independent progressive policy agenda to emerge as a force in 2012--and Obama does need to encounter resistance from within his own party, or NDAA-style concessions will become more frequent and more severe. That's not a slam on Obama in particular; it would be foolish to expect more from a politician.

Some of the best coverage of NDAA has come from Amnesty International's blog, which is well worth bookmarking. They've dealt with these issues globally for decades, and this is a case where the international human rights community can probably bring meaningful pressure to bear on the U.S. government.

Related: A Documentary History of Human Rights


December 26, 2011 at 11:44 am
(1) pennalto says:


December 26, 2011 at 11:58 am
(2) wowbuddy says:

Hey tom head, your just as much a traitor to this country as the bought-out politicians that attempt to void our rights with this bill and others of its ilk. You should be ashamed of yourself. People are waking up to this affront to the Constitution. Anyone who supports this bill and others like it are not patriots, they are traitors.

December 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm
(3) josh says:

all of it is just brainwashing. no matter what you read (even this) they (I, me) are just enforcing an opinion. read all the facts and think for yourself before you act like sheep and just follow because it sounds good. as far as i understand it, if it weren’t obama we could have never opened med. marijuana dispensaries like we did in colorado and cali, the ones getting closed down are too close to schools or buying from cartels. mine is still open :) yay thank jesus i don’t have to take pills that make me puke to fight my pain. wait screw jesus thank you obama. now i might be wrong the feds could bust everyone if they wanted to but they don’t want to, only some people in cali wanted some dispensaries shut down. so the DA did that. if this dude lies about that i assume he is lying about anything else he wrote. sorry about.com you aren’t teaching me about anything, just know you are about done filling my head with facts about things which are not true.

December 26, 2011 at 4:10 pm
(4) Mark Reston says:

Tom Head says that the question of why the average US citizen is badly mistaken about the bill cuts to the heart of why civil liberties is a core issue for the 2012 election in three ways: Since Obama betrayed, we’re suspicious and apt to “read stuff into” NDAA that’s not there (lol). It’s an opportunity for republicans. But he gives only one example Ron Paul who’s more of a libertarian not a republican (lol). It allows OWS protesters a chance to distance from all aspects of government including liberal ones. As an OWS protester in NYC, I assure people that this is most definitely not the case. We are our own movement not affiliated with any party, except maybe the human party. This author Tom Head gives what are “hyped up” or false reasons why civil liberties is election defining for 2012. So not only is each of the three ‘ways’ entirely mistaken, the main claim of Tom Head is also mistaken. The reason that civil liberties are election defining is that the American people with good reason believe that their civil liberties are under attack. The Patriot Act is not patriotic in most people’s view because it badly violates their right to privacy. This holiday season plane travel is down and surveys reflect a 35% drop. People prefer to drive than be searched by TSA. Taking away our earthly rights to grow our own food with S510, removing the Internet as we know it with SOPA, and mandating military roles in civilian law enforcement affairs with NDAA 2012 all makes for a massive assault on our bill of rights. The reason that civil liberties is election defining is not some set of contrivances like Head says. They’re election defining because they are vital, foundational, and are what can make our once great country great again. And they are under attack by congress. (Note: Your alleged expert NDAA scholar failed to address the fact that the FBI, police, and HEADS OF MILITARY do not like the bill).

December 26, 2011 at 4:41 pm
(5) Lindsey says:

I believe Greenwald’s examination of the NDAA versus AUMF is a fairly good analysis. He makes an excellent point that past terrorist legislation has, in the very least, been specific to actions and certain groups. Granted, the PATRIOT Act has already more broadly defined domestic terrorism, but in the very least the decision-making on who a terrorist was left in the hands of the investigating organizations. While I can see the potential for “political ploys,” the political ploys began when this provision was put in place by the Obama administration. It’s just not right that they have:

1. put this initiative in a funding authorization bill and
2. circumvented the FBI and CIA in the role of counterterrorism.

This is putting too much power in the executive office and is undercutting the agencies that actually do counterterrorism. I see your point that there may be more read into this provision than the actual intent..and that there may even be some political game-playing on this issue..but it is still bad policy. It’s bad policy because the legislation is written poorly and with little consideration for the potential ramifications. If the policymakers HAD given much thought to the ramifications, then such legislation would have more accurately defined the implementation of such counterterrorism measures..much like the MS Prop 26 issue. Bad policy is bad policy…regardless of how people define it as “bad policy” or use it for political rackets. But a definite good analysis on your part, Tom! I had not thought about it this way.

December 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm
(6) Alan MacDonald says:

NDAA is proof positive that disguised Empire rules our former country!

NDAA is equivalent to the Nazi Empire’s 1933 ‘Enabling Act’ which Hitler implemented under plenary powers of a dictator.

Paul is absolutely right to state that this is the death-spiral of our former country, which has been ‘captured’ and ‘Occupied’ by a disguised corporate/financial/militarist global EMPIRE, by hiding behind the facade of the empire’s bought and owned, modern, TWO-Party ‘Vichy’ sham of faux-democratic and totally illegitimate government — just as surely as the Nazi Empire ‘captured’ and ‘Occupied’ France under its crude, first generation, and single-party ‘Vichy’ facade!

As ‘Punk Patriot’ boldly warned on Common Dreams in this excellent video, it didn’t take the disguised Empire long to utilize this new 21st century Nazi-like ‘enabling act’.


BTW, the Denver crack-down added the nice, historical touch of using these new Nazi ‘Enabling Laws’ combined with a “burning” reminiscent of ‘Kristallnacht’—- sort of a two-for-one tribute to fascism.

And Ron Paul remains the ONLY CANDIDATE in either Vichy party to expose, and commit to confront, this growing EMPIRE which has totally ‘captured’ our phony government and now ‘Occupies’ our former country.

And as Hannah Arendt presciently warned from her painful experience under the Nazi Empire, and her life long study of empires:

“Empire abroad entails tyranny at home”

Best luck and love to Occupy Empire.

Liberty, democracy, justice, and equality.

Alan MacDonald
Sanford, Maine

December 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm
(7) blah blah blacksheep says:

Let’s look at this from an overall perspective. Some folks are confused by the wording. Some feel it allows the gov’t (via POTUS, Executive Branch, Military) to detain US Citizens for ambiguous reason. Some feel it turns the US soil into a battle field. Some feel it does none of that.

The bottomline is .. the wording of this bill sucks, flat out. If it’s causing this much confusion, then it needs to be reworded. There’s legal professionals that are on both sides of the fence on this bill. If LEGAL PROFESSIONALS are having a hard time understanding the consequences of this bill being made into law, then it needs to go back to the draft for clarification.

The problem I see lately is that the government has been quick to pass ambiguous bills into law which let the legal system use them like sledge hammers to cover all sorts of situations, even ones they weren’t originally intended for, instead of very narrow-in-scope laws that pinpoint specific things. The government was allowed to make laws as minor adjustments to our fundamental Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc, not as broad-based swoops. Our government these days is being very lazy, and they’re letting “industry experts” (eg: RIAA, MPAA, etc) spoon-feed them things to use against the citizenry.

Let’s look at Jammie Thomas-Rasset. She did the online equivilent of shoplifting some music cds. Instead of taking her to small-claims court and fining her $500, she got slapped with a $1.5M judgement, since they used some law against her that was designed to punish bootleggers that mass produce knock offs and sell them for a ton of profit. She wasn’t making any profit. But, because she was torrenting out the files to others, they grouped her under that law. That shows 2 things. 1) that law is too ambiguous, 2) our government is passing laws for an internet age when they are clueless abou the internet.

SOPA is another example. NDAA 2012 is an example of what should just be a bill for military spending, but they’re pork-bellying tons of other crap into it. They should pass very specific things, not broad-brush-stroke things. They’re being lazy, and in the case of NDAA 2012, they need to send it back and clarify it, so folks won’t raise a big stink over it.

December 28, 2011 at 2:45 am
(8) Joe Ferguson says:

I believe Wittes article is wrong. In one location he states:

Does the NDAA expand the government’s detention authority?

Nope. Under current law, the Obama administration claims the authority to detain:

“persons that the President determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, and persons who harbored those responsible for those attacks. The President also has the authority to detain persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al-Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act, or has directly supported hostilities, in aid of such enemy armed forces.”



NDAA has no specifics such as Guantanamo detainees.

December 29, 2011 at 6:21 pm
(9) Joe Q Public for President says:

Americans deserve to lose their civil rights, be imprisoned in the $385 million Endgame camps, never go to trial because of NDAA 2012. Fat, lazy, entitled sheep…bleeting that they missed out on some “bargain” at Black Friday, while their throats were being cut in the US Senate 87-13. YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for your own conduct, the conduct of your community, your state and nation. And all you’ve done is become digitally-discreet (it’s HIS fault! It’s THEIR fault, wa wa wa babies about to be boiled in the blood of hundreds of thousands of victims of American imperialism, the very fascism that President Eisenhower warned about in his 1961 farewell speech. RENEW YOUR CITIZENSHIP IN A NATION AND WORLD YOU CAN BE HAPPY WITH (Pride is for fascist losers) Believe in quantum possibilities and be responsible for your conduct to make them come true! I wrote the North Koreans today and copied DCIA, POTUS, SecDef, SecState. Come see what I wrote at
JoeQPublic.com and visit Joe Q. Public for President on Facebook Peace and love- better than a damn Endgame prison camps near Yuma

December 30, 2011 at 1:50 am
(10) Kat says:

Tom must be as stupid as he looks!

December 30, 2011 at 4:20 pm
(11) nope.avi says:

was going to read the article, saw tom’s picture, wtf am i looking at, not reading.

December 30, 2011 at 5:01 pm
(12) Health fitness says:

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January 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm
(13) Angie says:

Thank you Josh comment #3. Excellent point you make. We cannot form our own opinions based on what one individual thinks. We need to gather as many facts as possible and form our own opinions. I’m certain every Blog on the topic will have something different to say. Thank you Tom for taking the time to write this for us, I actually learned tons more from your commenters this time, but that’s OK, it’s just the way it goes sometimes.

January 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm
(14) rcj says:


You’re quite evolved, aren’t you?

January 23, 2012 at 8:07 am
(15) mimi says:

Ignorance knows no bounds. This NDAA is a yearly enacted bill for the continuance of funding for the military. This year, however, with the Big Money paid repub/tparty and their traitorous action in signing that Norquist pledge, the R/Tps added wording to thwart the signing of this bill by our First Black President Obama (get the racist point?). He outsmarted them by signing it with addendums that will stand up in court, all the way to the USSC. Now all you dumbheads (for lack of a polite word) go learn something. If the Pres vetoed the bill, there would be no more funding for the military for a full year, no paychecks, no health care, etc. And, the R/Tps would have overridden the veto and continued with the obstruction of keeping you and your kids in a nosse. I’m really tired of stupidity from the R/Tp and their cohorts.

February 14, 2012 at 8:40 am
(16) Steve says:

Mimi …. you’re an idiot ….go kill yourself !!

March 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm
(17) Kayla says:

All of you need to do more research. NDAA 2012 is not much different from NDAA 2008.The only difference is that included provisions added by Senators Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., which codified into law the ability of the military to indefinitely detain “enemy combatants,” including American citizens, without trial. Now if you have a problem with that then you should have probably have a problem with 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution permits the detentions of United States citizens which was already in effect long before Obama’s NDAA 2012. The AUMF basically has no restrictions, but I guess since it was right after 9/11 noone really cared aout thier rights they only wanted to ” Get those terrorist “. Everyone should pay more attention to what is really going on instead of focusing hate on one person.

October 1, 2012 at 11:54 am
(18) Michael says:

Someone has been drinking the Kool-Aid!

November 6, 2012 at 8:24 am
(19) c says:

Mr. Head, you Sir, are a fool….

You have no idea the half of it, yet you advocate as though you did.

This world is filled with evil. There are men out there right now – men much better than you – ridding the world of an evil you simply can’t grasp from the internet, certainly not from your strokes of a keyboard. And they do this, ultimately, for this country – for you. And uninformed as you are, you still shirk your journalistic integrity and espouse this ill-informed garbage to shape, and further, the universal nature of our incredibly mis-informed public.

You wouldn’t last a day outside the protected walls of this country and its western allies, subjected to those around the globe who wish you harm. The NDAA is a necessary evil, because evil exists.

Shame on you.

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