NDAA Split The House Democratic Caucus In Half-- Exactly In Half
As Nicole Belle explained in her thoughtful apologia at Crooks and Liars Sunday morning, political reality dictated that Obama sign the heinous National Defense Authorization Act. It's a political reality progressives shouldn't just sit and whine about, but do something to change. The bill passed the House on December 14 with a veto-proof majority, 283-136. 190 Republicans followed Boehner's and Cantor's instructions to vote for it, while 43 refused to go along. The Democrats were split in half, 93-93.
Generally speaking, progressive Democrats led by people like Raúl Grijalva, Keith Ellison, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, John Conyers, Donna Edwards, Jerry Nadler, Tammy Baldwin and Brad Miller voted no. Blue Dogs and conservative Democrats-- your Heath Shulers, Larry Kissells, Mike McIntyres, Joe Donnellys, Steve Israels, Steny Hoyers, Joe Crowleys, Ron Kinds, Jim Mathesons, Dennis Cardozas... that kind of dreck, voted with the Republicans, although some usually decent Democrats (including Pelosi and Waxman) joined them as well.
Despite bad votes from a smattering of usually good Democrats trying to make it easier for Obama to do what he had to do, the bill really was a line in the sand for committed progressives. I asked Brad Miller (D-NC), one of the most thoughtful Members of Congress, why he voted against it. He was very straightforward:
The indefinite detention provisions in NDAA made already bad law much worse. In fact, it’s a mess.
The law on taking prisoners of war was pretty easy: prisoners were taken on the battlefield, they were wearing the enemy’s uniform, and they were just held until the end of the war, which was usually two or three years max. They weren’t kept as prisoners to punish them for crimes, since they were fighting for their country the same way our guys were. We just wanted to keep them out of the fight until the war was over.
There was very rarely any question that the people taken prisoner were combatants for the other side, and we really didn’t need much legal process to hold them as prisoners. If we did want to punish a prisoner for a crime, then they got a trial.
But with the "war on terror," there is no battlefield, there are no uniforms, there is often real doubt about who the combatants are, there will probably not be an end to the war in our lifetimes, and it’s pretty clear that we really aren’t just keeping suspected terrorists out of the fight, we’re punishing them. In fact, we’re really giving them a life sentence. That should require a lot more legal protection than NDAA provides.
I’m glad that President Obama says he won’t use the indefinite detention provisions on American citizens. So what about the next president?”
I also posed the question to one of the Blue America candidates, Ken Aden, an 11-year combat vet (Iraq and Afghanistan) running against Arkansas plutocrat Steve Womack. Womack, of course, voted for the bill. Ken told me he would have voted against it and he told me why:
Needless to say, I am outraged at the National Defense Authorization Act and I would not have voted to support it had I been an elected member of Congress. As a matter of fact, when elected to represent the people of Northwest Arkansas, I will work hand in hand with my fellow progressive Democrats to repeal this. This particular bill does nothing more than take away our civil liberties, and I for one find it very very disturbing. It gives authority to the president to order the military to detain U.S. citizens without official charge or trial on the mere suspicion of being a terrorist. This will unfairly target members of our Muslim-American communities, and other hard working Americans as well. This bill does NOT strengthen us, it instead weakens us as a nation. If you don't think this to be the case, just look at all the instances where certain people are harassed across our country just for the color of their own skin by those who are supposed to protect us. Our country was founded on freedom, this bill will lead to a gross abuse of power and the result will be one that it is hard for Americans to fathom. What can we do as ordinary citizens to stop this? In 2012, we can for example occupy the ballot box and ensure that we put real representatives in place who have the best interest of the American people at heart. I served my country for eleven years in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I can say with loud clarity that the NDAA is wrong. I can also say that when elected to Congress I will scream out against this. I took an oath when 22 years of age to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Until you have proof that someone is involved with a terrorist organization then they are NOT a terrorist, and you have no right to detain them based upon that suspicion. We are the land of the FREE at least we are supposed to be.
President Obama isn't very popular in Arkansas's Third District, where Ken is challenging Womack. In fact it was one of Obama's weakest showings in the 2008 election. He took 34% against McCain, much worse than anywhere else in the state. The irony is that the conservative Establishment shill, Womack, is handing him the kind of power most voters fear, while the progressive, Ken, who is far more progressive than Obama, is clearly and loudly on the side of the people who live in the area. Both Brad and Ken have been endorsed by Blue America this year. Brad is one of our only incumbents, and Ken is one of our challengers we have faith in to help us change the political reality in Washington.