Monday, January 16, 2012

What Does the NDAA really do?


some highlights

Section 1022 purports not merely to authorize but to require military custody for a subset of those who are subject to detention under Section 1021. In particular, it requires that the military hold “a covered person” pending disposition under the law of war if that person is “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda” and is participating in an attack against the United States or its coalition partners. The president is allowed to waive this requirement for national security reasons. The provision exempts U.S. citizens entirely, and it applies to lawful permanent resident aliens for conduct within the United States to whatever extent the Constitution permits. It requires the administration to promulgate procedures to make sure its requirements do not interfere with basic law enforcement functions in counterterrorism cases. And it insists that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the existing criminal enforcement and national security authorities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other domestic law enforcement agency with regard to a covered person, regardless whether such covered person is held in military custody.”

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.

They are almost verbatim the same. The NDAA is really a codification in statute of the existing authority the administration claims. It puts Congress’s stamp of approval behind that claim for the first time, and that’s no small thing. But it does not–notwithstanding the widespread belief to the contrary–expand it. Nobody who is not subject to detention today will become so when the NDAA goes into effect.

Does the NDAA authorize the indefinite detention of citizens?

No, though it does not foreclose the possibility either. Congress ultimately included language in the NDAA expressly designed to leave this question untouched–that is, governed by pre-existing law, which as we explain below is unsettled on this question.

Does it mandate military detention of terrorist suspects?

Not really, though both supporters and critics seem quite sure that it does.

Is there anything in the NDAA about which human rights groups and civil libertarians ought to be pleased?

Yes, actually, there is.  Section 1024 of the bill, as we’ve noted, requires that people subject to long-term military detention in circumstances not already subject to habeas corpus review–think the Detention Facility in Parwan, Afghanistan–henceforth shall have the right to a military lawyer and a proceeding before a military judge in order to contest the government’s factual basis for believing them to be subject to detention.  This is an extraordinary and novel development.  Detainees in Afghanistan currently have access to the Detainee Review Board process, which as described in this article already provide a relatively robust screening mechanism, particularly compared to years past.  The DRB process does not include lawyers and judges, however, and human rights advocacy groups have criticized them on this ground.  Requiring lawyers and judges to staff out the screening process is a pretty remarkable shift in the direction of accomodating those concerns.
What’s more, while human rights groups have decried the codification of detention authority, the codification does preclude certain interpretations of the AUMF that human rights groups hated. For example, while the difference between the D.C. Circuit’s embrace of the “purposefully and materially support” standard and the administration’s language seems pretty slight, the D.C. Circuit language did–which the NDAA now jettisons–keep critics up at night. And the D.C. Circuit famously flirted in one case with the notion that international law does not inform or limit detention authority under the AUMF–a position that the explicit references to the “law of war” in the NDAA seems to reject.
In short, the bill is a mixed bag–almost no matter what vantage point one examines it from.

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