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'Global Battlefield' Provision Allowing Indefinite Detention of Citizens Accused of Terror Could Pass This Week

Lawmakers are looking to vote as soon as Thursday on the final National Defense Authorization, which has outraged civil liberties advocates.

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Still, Obama’s assessment that indefinite detention raises “serious and unsettled legal questions," while true, is ironic given his claim to another controversial executive power: reserving the right to assassinate American citizens abroad without an ounce of due process, which led to the extrajudicial assassination of U.S. born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

The World As Our Perpetual Battlefield 

Receiving far less attention, though equally as important, is section 1031, which expands the definition of who is eligible for military detention and where the battlefield in the War on Terror lies.

The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) only authorizes force “against those nations, organizations, or persons” who the President determines “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks” of Sept. 11, “or harbored such organizations or persons.”

But under Levin/McCain, the AUMF extends the scope of the War on Terror even further, by authorizing force against “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” As Glenn Greenwald points out, “This is intended to allow force to be used against groups that did not even exist at the time of 9/11 — such as the ones in Yemen and Somalia — as well to allow force against persons who may not be a member of those groups but who provide ‘substantial support.’”

Again, this is essentially what the U.S. government is already doing. As early as 2009, the Obama administration argued that the President’s AUMF powers extend far beyond Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to include “ associated forces.” It is under this expansive interpretation that the Obama administration justified bombing Yemen and Somalia. For example, the Somali terrorist organization Al-Shabaab, which did not exist until 2006, is said to be a legitimate target due to alleged connections with al Qaeda, yet according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Backgrounder, “any organizational linkage between the two groups is weak, if it exists at all.”

Anders describes this section as a “backdoor way to expand and make permanent the 2001 AUMF” by delinking the AUMF from 9/11. “Even though the previous two administrations have claimed broad powers stemming from the AUMF, and the courts have sometimes agreed with those claims, they must still have a tie to the 9/11 attacks. The NDAA breaks that tie and instead makes it a military war against terrorism suspects everywhere and anywhere,” says Anders.

If the Obama administration vetoes the NDAA in its current form as it has explicitly threatened to do, it would be a welcome relief. As Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First points out, Obama has little reason not to veto:

The actual impact of vetoing a defense authorization bill is minimal. Four presidents — including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — have done it in recent decades. The government will still pay the troops and spend what’s necessary to sustain the military; the NDAA is only designed to authorize new programs.

Still, a veto would not reduce the ever-expanding power grabs that render the U.S. Constitution worthless whenever the word "terrorism" is invoked. The Obama administration continues to indefinitely detain “enemy combatants” in response to legacy cases left over from the previous administration; a broad interpretation of the 2001 AUMF continues to perpetuate endless war; and Obama has gone further than any other president in reserving the right to assassinate Americans abroad, appointing himself judge, jury, and executioner, due process be damned.

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