Chris Hedges is not suing the president for personal publicity; I’m afraid it’s much worse than that. He’s a committed pacifist with a very respectable record of leadership in the movement, putting his body where his words are. But the cognitive dissonance over NDAA has reached a crescendo with this lawsuit, which will achieve exactly no progress in reversing the controversial sections of the law. It certainly won’t speed up the end of war in Afghanistan, as that spending isn’t even part of the National Defense Authorization Act. In fact, Hedges is suing the wrong branch of government altogether.
Again: NDAA is the Department of Defense budget, and only two out of its thousands of sections in 2011 were about indefinite detention. NDAA has nothing to do with CIA drone strikes, either. Instead, NDAA is how the DoD converts to biofuels and solar power. It is also how lesbian sailors and gay Marines come home on time from deployment. It is how Congress provides for the common defense mentioned in the Constitutional preamble.
The term on Capitol Hill for bills like NDAA is “must-pass legislation” — because they are essential to the business of government. So when legislators want to pass bills that would never fly on their own, they often attach them as amendments to must-pass bills. That is exactly what happened here.
Congress, which writes the NDAA, has passed it forty-nine times. Congress will pass the NDAA again, and may reverse the indefinite detention provisions at any time. In fact, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and Representative Adam Smith (D-WA) have already written an amendment to do just that (.PDF). Speaking about it to Michael McAuliffe at the Huffington Post,
the two legislators said they were optimistic, considering the level of outrage and energy generated in last year’s debate. They suggested the White House was on their side in spirit, if not yet in deed.
I wish them luck, because Hedges provides clear evidence that the peace lobby would much rather sue President Obama for signing the 2012 Department of Defense budget than organize to actually fix NDAA in its fiftieth iteration. That requires work, whereas suing the president only requires a lawyer. Thankfully, not all the activists are off on this tangent:
Today, a coalition of good government, taxpayer, and civil and human rights organizations from across the ideological spectrum launched a campaign to shine a light on the defense budget. Specifically, the groups are urging members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) to open the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which last year authorized more than $662 billion of taxpayer dollars for FY 2012 but was drafted by SASC behind closed doors.
There’s no good reason for SASC to mark up this bill entirely in secret. On the House side, the NDAA markup is open to the public. Before discussing any classified information, the House Armed Services Committee can easily vote to move into an executive session. Furthermore, last year, a SASC subcommittee marked up its portion of the bill in an open session. The public has the right to know where its taxpayer dollars are going, especially given some of the controversial provisions in the bill.
That’s about OpenNDAA.org, a netroots project from the Project On Government Oversight. I signed the Open NDAA Letters last night, and encourage everyone else to do so — because they are barking up exactly the right tree. Chris Hedges is correct to want these two sections reversed; I do too. So do millions of Americans. We’re not wrong, but if we don’t organize effectively we might as well be.
It isn’t enough to be right. It isn’t enough to have a coalition of interest groups. It isn’t enough to have Medea Benjamin get arrested again. A mass movement organized for this fight can not only reverse the two sections at issue, it can also bring renewed attention to the costs of American empire — and lobby to shrink those costs — by focusing on the branch that actually controls the national defense budget. That’s not Obamapologetics, it’s basic civics.