MANHATTAN (CN) – The White House signaled that President Barack Obama has dropped his veto threat against a bill allowing the military to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without trial, and letting the military jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial.
After passing the House on Wednesday night, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 could come to Obama’s desk after a Senate vote today (Thursday), the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
The bill writes a $662 billion check to the Department of Defense.
Civil libertarians fear the law threatens 4th Amendment protections from unreasonable searches and seizures; 5th Amendment guarantees of due process; and 6th Amendment provisions for speedy trial.
“President Obama made a choice with chilling consequences today when he announced he would not veto the NDAA despite the lack of change to provisions of the bill that make it even more difficult to shut down the prison at Guantanamo and make indefinite military detention without trial a permanent feature of the U.S. legal system,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union warned Obama to shift course to avoid following in the footsteps of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunts, in the name of fighting terrorism.
“If President Obama signs this bill, it will damage both his legacy and American’s reputation for upholding the rule of law,” said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU‘s legislative office. “The last time Congress passed indefinite detention legislation was during the McCarthy era and President Truman had the courage to veto that bill. We hope that the president will consider the long view of history before codifying indefinite detention without charge or trial.”
Demonstrations against the NDAA planned to coincide with the Bill of Rights Day were scheduled across the country today, including Houston, New York City, and Worcester, Mass., where Occupy Wall Street-affiliated activists plan a “funeral march” for the Constitution.
Civil libertarians are particularly concerned about the NDAA’s broad language targeting al-Qaida members, supporters or “associated forces,” after London police cautioned local businesses about Occupy London in a “Terrorism/Extremism” memo, The Guardian newspaper reported.
In a statement, the White House said the NDAA would usher in “21st century” justice, while respecting “rule of law … the heart of our country’s strength.”
“This legislation authorizes critical funding for military personnel overseas, and its passage sends an important signal that Congress supports our efforts as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan lead while ensuring that our military can meet the challenges of the 21st century,” according to the White House statement.
Obama spoke Wednesday at a ceremony at Fort Bragg, N.C., marking the end of the Iraq War, though troops will remain until Dec. 31.
The Washington Post estimates that another 16,000 civilian contractors will remain in Iraq.
At an earlier hearing, Sen. Lindsay Graham boasted that the NDAA will turn the U.S. into a new “battlefield.”
The Senate, which approved the bill 93-7 in an earlier form, is expected to pass it again today.