On December 15, 2011 Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which contained a provision giving the President of the United States the authority to indefinitely detain Americans who were classified by the President as terrorists or provided material support for terrorists or terrorist organizations. This is the story of how one man (and his office staff) helped expose this dangerous provision and has nearly killed it.
The NDAA is an annual bill that works its way through the Armed Services Committee and includes all the mundane funding and provisions outlining military spending, personnel strengths, and procedures for the country's national defense. The act works its way through the Senate and House committees and then goes to the floor of each chamber for passage and is signed by the president. It is not unusual for there to be arguments about funding issues and discussions about how the military operations/wars are being conducted, but there is usually very rarely Constitutional 'controversial' material that ever comes to light. [It is worth noting that Don't Ask Don't Tell came through these committees but I don't find that a Constitutional question but I recognize that it was very controversial]
Last year, that all changed.
The NDAA had worked its way through the appropriate committees in the Senate and House with little resistance.It moved through the House committee chaired by Rep. Buck McKeon (R) on a 60-1 vote and became HR 1540. The bill then passed the House on May 25 on a vote of 322-96 (only 6 dissenting Republicans). It passed through committee on November 15th in the Senate chaired by Sen. Carl Levin (D) on a 26-0 vote and became SB 1867.
Freshman Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI3) has made it a habit of reading all the legislation that he votes on and posting all of his votes and reasoning on Facebook. He began this process when he served in the Michigan State House of Representatives and has continued it now in Congress. He and his office in reviewing the NDAA recognized that Sections 1021-1024 of the NDAA of 2012 contained new 'clarification' of what the President's new powers were to be. As a lawyer, Amash quickly recognized the vagueness of the wording within the new provision and saw that it could be construed as giving the President broad new detention privileges while denying the defendant any legal recourse.
Now before we go any further it is important to point out that Amash is a freshman legislator in Congress. This is in a chamber where seniority rules decisively and completely. Rarely are freshmen allowed to introduce legislation. They serve on the lowliest committees and are expected to follow along and not cause trouble. The new Congressmen also know virtually no one in the chamber except maybe fellow members from their home state so their ability to find the 'go-to' guy or gal is almost zero. Finally, since they have barely been serving (in Amash's case in this example May of 2011 he'd been in Washington only 4 months) they certainly don't know anyone in the Senate either.
In May this NDAA of 2012 which includes the provision in Sections 1021-1023 for indefinite dentention passes the House with minimal resistance - especially from Republicans. Rep. Amash recognizes the danger of the law and also opposed Section 1034 which gives the President sweeping ability to conduct extended military operations. With the military operations in Libya hot on the minds of Americans this was probably seen as a good way to get some public opposition to the NDAA.
Over the next few months Amash begins to meet more of his colleagues and develops a friendship with Senator Rand Paul (a clear ally politically both on governing principles and he is the son of Rep. Ron Paul who endorsed Amash in the August 2010 Republican primary). Amash describes the potential risk for the new provision and Paul convinces a few Repbulicans and Democrats in the Senate to oppose the law.
By this point, Amash is recognizing that the indefinite detention rule is a nonpartisan issue that people from all over the political spectrum should rightly oppose. He then goes on the offensive both on Facebook and (allegedly) during the House Republican strategy conference where he actively opposes House Armed Services Chair and long time member Buck McKeon.
Imagine the scene if you will. In December, before most of the Republican delegation of Congress (Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy, etc.) Amash rises and addresses the group to explain how the NDAA Section 1021-23 provides for the power of indefinite detention of American citizens. He cites the specific language and tries to convince people who probably have little knowledge of him that the nearly 20 year veteran and chair of the powerful Armed Services Committee is mistaken. McKeon counters that Amash is flat out wrong.
The battle then leaves the room and heads to the ethernet.
McKeon writes a rebuttal to all of the 'misinformation' about the provision and has it posted at Redstate.com. Amash counters with this post rebutting the rebuttal. Amash manages to sway a few more Republicans including Representatives Huizenga and Walberg who are also new members from Michigan.
Amash starts hitting the ether hard on Facebook calling all of his 'followers' to call their representatives knowing that many are not his constituents. Still, he only has 18,000 followers or so in a nation of 310 million people to put the heat on Congress.
In fact, on the vote in December to adopt the Senate version (which was basically the same as HR 1540) Amash succeeds in getting 43 Republican defections instead of the previous 6.The bill still easily passes the House and becomes law after President Obama signs it a few weeks later. If this were the end of the story, it could almost be viewed as a Don Quixote mission where we might give the Congressman an "atta boy, thanks for trying, keep your chin up."
But the story was only beginning.
Through those 18-20,000 followers there was intense outrage. They did call their Representatives. And told their friends. And those friends told their friends. And... well you get the picture.
Suddenly, at town halls Congressmen were getting questioned about their NDAA vote and pilloried if they voted for it or praised for voting against. The NDAA issue was showing up in the presidential campaign as Ron Paul would use it to point out the growing power in Washington and it even came up at a presidential debate where all the candidates except Huntsman and Paul said they would have signed it (as Obama did).
Stories about the NDAA and its detention provisions are no longer just contained on ACLU and InfoWars websites but it's also appearing in the Washington Post and International Business Times. There is a definite possibility that the Armed Forces Committees in both chambers will have to revise or potentially remove the provisions entirely from the NDAA 2013 bill!
The indefinite detention provision is close to dead. I believe we have reached critical mass and one man has maintained just a little bit of our liberty. It is very important to recognize that even one person can have a profound impact if they are tenacious and don't settle on 'just voting' or just speaking out once or twice. I am proud to say that Justin Amash is my personal Congressman but hope that you see he is defending the liberties of not just my district in West Michigan but those of all Americans.
Keep up the heat until the indefinite provision is killed. Call your Senators and Representatives today and tell them to axe this un-Constitutional provision from this year's NDAA and beyond. Here is the Congressional Switchboard #1-866-220-0044 and here is a little 'how-to' when calling Washington D.C.
Don't forget to wish Rep. Amash Happy Birthday on April 18th on Facebook. You might even want to send him your two cents (maximum donations up to $2500 I'm sure would be accepted as well.)