National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
This Is Happening In America?
04, 2012 "Information
diary of students' awakening to the president's grave menace to
their constitutional liberties: Recently, on Skype, I was
discussing my memoir, "Boston Boy" (Paul Dry Books, 1986), with
a class at Suffolk University in Boston. It's about growing up
in a Boston ghetto during the Great Depression, when Boston was
the most anti-Semitic city in the country.
While answering questions from these lively students, I wanted
to find out how many of them knew about the National Defense
Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012. Barack Obama
signed this law, giving the president -- for the first time in
American history -- the power to imprison indefinitely an
American citizen "suspected" of "association" (without evidence)
with terrorists. This fate comes without charge or trial.
What did these students think about that?
There was silence. Not a word. They seemed to be glued to their
Later, an explanation came from the history professor, Robert
Allison, who had assigned the book to them. (Among his books:
"The Boston Tea Party," "The Boston Massacre" and "American
Eras: The Revolutionary Era (1754-1783).")
"You sure put the fear of God in them," he told me. That was
strange because I'm a nonbeliever -- except in the Constitution.
Describing the students' state of fear, he told me that one of
them startlingly asked: "Is what he said happening in America?"
Added another: "Is anybody doing anything about it?"
Unfortunately, I haven't heard of anyone in the Obama Justice
Department resigning in patriotic protest against the NDAA.
(Nor, as far as I know, did anyone in the George W. Bush Justice
Department resign, denouncing the Patriot Act, under which the
systemic contemporary disintegration of our constitutional
Instead, writes Tom Engelhardt, it seems the Obama
administration has been building upon this seemingly vast
"national security labyrinth" ("Yottabytes, You, and the
Infinitely Expansive National Security State," Tom Engelhardt,
commondreams.org, April 3).
On March 22, reports Engelhardt, Attorney General Eric Holder,
our chief law officer, along with Director of National
Intelligence James Clapper Jr., agreed to "new guidelines
allowing the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) ... to hold
on to information about Americans in no way known to be
connected to terrorism -- about you and me, that is -- for up to
five years." Its previous limit was 180 days.
So, you or I would be a "person of interest" to the FBI and
other intelligence agencies for five years. And nothing would
prevent us innocents from staying in suspects' databases for
many years beyond.
Is this America? Or China?
Engelhardt also points out that these new guidelines targeting
We the People "hardly made a ripple" throughout the media.
Remember that when President Obama arrived in the Oval Office,
he solemnly pledged his administration would be the most
transparent in American history.
Next summer, during my annual lecture-interchanges with law
students at Charlottesville, Va.'s Rutherford Institute --
headed by John Whitehead, one of the nation's strongest
defenders of civil liberties -- I'll review the NDAA for them,
reminding them of Winston Churchill's warning:
"The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without
formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to
deny him the judgment of his peers (at trial) is in the highest
degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian
government whether Nazi or Communist" (Future of Freedom
Foundation, fff.org, April 27).
Is it the foundation of our government run by Barack Obama and
And while talking to these bright law students, I'll hypothesize
that some of them might wind up in the Justice Department of a
president whose view of national security would lead him or her
to adopt and enforce the very tyranny that is described by
Winston Churchill and is contained in the NDAA.
If any of these law students in Virginia are hired by the
Justice Department, would they follow these presidential orders,
as is now customary?
Now, a contrasting, cheerful note amid all this tarring of our
The City Council of Northampton, Mass., has unanimously passed a
resolution rejecting the NDAA as unconstitutional and demanding
"a restoration of due process and the right to trial"
("Northampton 'opts out' of federal law," Heidi Voigt, wwlp.com,
Sure, this is a symbolic statement meant to awaken other cities.
But it is worth remembering that, after the Patriot Act was
shoved through Congress in the fall of 2001, this City Council
unanimously voted on May 2, 2002, to make Northampton America's
first city to denounce the un-American law, organizing a
modern-day version of the Committees of Correspondence.
The result was the still very active Bill of Rights Defense
Committee (BORDC). Committee member Emma Roderick proudly
declares that, after Northampton's resolution passed, "433
cities and towns ended up passing (similar) resolutions,"
rousing citizens across the country, even liberating some minds
across party lines in Congress. (wwlp.com, Feb 17).
This resistance to arrant tyranny first became part of our
heritage when Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty formed the
original Committees of Correspondence, a unifying source of news
of British tyranny throughout the colonies that became a
precipitating cause of the American Revolution.
Where are the Sons of Liberty, the Committees of Correspondence
and the insistently courageous city councils now, when they are
crucially needed to bring back the Bill of Rights that protect
every American against government tyranny worse than King George
Where are the citizens demanding that these doorways to liberty
be opened? None of the current polls listing the most demanding
issues in the 2012 elections have any mention of enabling us to
be free citizens again.
From now on, I'll be asking this of any students I speak with:
What are we waiting for?
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First
Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato
Institute, where he is a senior fellow.
article was first published at