in Kulturkampf

NDAA: Wheeler vs. the War Machine

It’s really all in the story you tell. This photo of the first openly-gay coming-home kiss depicts two characters. One is a sailor who expects to be paid on time — and for her ship to leave and return on schedule. The other is her girlfriend, who expects to see her partner’s Christmas leave approved. The war machine’s wheels must turn dependably on time to give their lives any order at all. Those wheels are greased with money, and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is the grease gun.

But there is an alternative story about NDAA. Here’s Marcy Wheeler telling it yesterday; her story is titled President Hates Freedom:

The NDAA doesn’t do anything to exempt Americans from indefinite detention. And the reason it doesn’t–at least according to the unrebutted claims of Carl Levin that I reported on over a month ago–is because the Administration asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to take out language that would have specifically exempted Americans from indefinite detention. (Emphasis mine)

“The unrebutted claims of Carl Levin” is hilarious. A falsely-edited video of his Senate floor speech was exposed as an obvious fabrication pushed by an unknown spammer. Curiously, she made the same edit of Levin’s words as the falsely-edited video — on November 18th, in a post published long before the video emerged. Perhaps our Breitbarting spammer is a fan? Here’s what spammer and blogger elide* from Levin’s actual words:

“The administration officials reviewed the draft language for this provision the day before our markup and recommended additional changes. We were able to accommodate those recommendations, except for the administration request that the provision apply only to detainees who are captured overseas. There is a good reason for that. But even here, the difference is relatively modest, because the provision already excludes all U.S. citizens. It also excludes all lawful residents of the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution. The only covered persons left are those who are illegally in this country or who arrive as tourists or on some other short-term basis, and that is a small remaining category, but an important one, because it includes the terrorists who clandestinely arrive in the United States with the objective of attacking military or other targets here.” (Emphasis mine)

So what’s next? Breathless credulity for Andrew Breitbart videos? Someone could easily create another progressive meltdown by tweeting that Jon Bon Jovi is dead of a drone strike: I read it on the internet, it must be true! Wheeler again:

You don’t get to the targeted killing of American citizens (which, after all, doesn’t offer the possibility of a habeas corpus review) without first believing you’ve got the power to indefinitely detain Americans (with habeas review).

The phrase “targeted killing” is an important part of her story: through the magic of polemical phrasing, good aim becomes a violation of the Bill of Rights. The whole point of maintaining a common defense (see: Constitutional preamble) is to shoot straight with it. Every time a Union soldier lined up his rifle sights on a Confederate and shot him dead, an American citizen was the victim of a “targeted killing.”

For that matter, tens of thousands of captured American citizen-combatants suffered “indefinite detention” when they were marched into prison camps for the duration of the Civil War. And therein lies the problem, because that conflict at least had a visible conclusion on offer, while the “war on terror” does not.

Bush policy was to declare eternal war and a “temporary” suspension of civil liberties at the same time. That’s uncomfortably like a dictator’s permanent state of emergency. Public discontent with this state of affairs has been bipartisan, yet it is doubtful the 112th Congress — teapublicans included! — would ever vote to overturn the PATRIOT ACT.

Today, Bush detention policy isn’t being perpetuated by the White House. Congress has consistently stymied all attempts to close Guantanamo and offered bipartisan resistance to holding detainee trials in the federal courts, where they belong. In fact, this whole NDAA flap begins and ends in the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Joe Lieberman and John McCain have made it their mission to prevent the president from ending “endless war.”

That is my story of the wars: the way out was through. Osama bin Laden had to die, al-Qaeda had to be demolished, the Taliban brought to terms, and some kind of nation-state left in Afghanistan. Wheeler’s story is very different: Obama can’t, or won’t, end the wars, even with the last American soldier out of Iraq.

But her story is changing. As the truth about NDAA emerges, goalposts keep moving.

At first, the NDAA issue was (rightly) about mandatory indefinite military detention for terrorist suspects. I called that one, too. But after that language was changed under a White House veto threat, the new complaint was that NDAA authorized indefinite military detentions (including the ones that are already happening).

Now, several factions of the online left insist NDAA “doesn’t do anything to exempt Americans from indefinite detention” (Wheeler’s words) because it is unclear on whether Americans can be held indefinitely. I hope a presidential signing statement for NDAA will bring ‘clarity’ to the issue for everyone, but I am not holding my breath. Instead, I expect they will next insist NDAA is a sellout because it isn’t called No Indefinite Detentions Act (NIDA).

While I would be happy with such legislation — indeed, I would promote NIDA myself — NDAA is not that, and this is not the Congress that would pass NIDA. The National Defense Authorization Act, on the other hand, is a routine spending bill that every Congress passes — and the president refused to sign it containing a poison pill. In one sentence, that is my story and I am sticking to it.

Hopefully, that couple up there will stick to their story.

*I just love the word elide! Think I’ll use it at least three times in every post from now on, ever.

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