Tag Archive | "President Obama"

NDAA bill may allow for indefinite detention of American citizens

On December 31, President Obama signed into law the controversial National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, and critics have pounced on the bill claiming that it potentially allows for the indefinite detainment of American citizens.

Let me go ahead and warn everyone that this is a very complicated subject, but I’m going to do my best to try and make it intelligible.

On its surface, the NDAA is an 1844-page spending bill that authorizes $662 billion for the defense budget. But contained within the legislation are provisions that deal with the detention of terrorism suspects, specifically the portion of the bill entitled, “Subtitle D –Counterterrorism.”

These provisions of the bill do not so much expand presidential authority for detaining suspects as it does reaffirm an authority both former President Bush and Obama claim already existed as granted by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

The AUMF was a one-page joint resolution passed by Congress immediately after 9/11 authorizing the use of military force against those responsible for the terrorist attack and granted the President the authority “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided” in 9/11.

Section 1021 of the NDAA codifies this authority of the AUMF and defines a “covered person” subject to this authority as the following:

“A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks” or “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, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

So, in effect, this section puts a Congressional stamp of approval on the administration’s interpretation of the AUMF, even though the AUMF does not explicitly state anything about powers of detention.

The new language that is added to the NDAA that was not in the original AUMF is the phrase “substantially supported.”

This phrase is dangerously broad and could, perhaps, be used to detain someone only tangentially involved in organizations hostile to the United States.

Furthermore, when someone is detained that is deemed a “covered person,” the NDAA allows for four options for disposition, including trial by a military commission, trial by an alternate court or tribunal, or transfer of custody to the person’s country of origin or any foreign entity.

But the most terrifying option is “detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”

Considering the War on Terror could potentially last forever, a person could reasonably be held indefinitely without trial under this provision.

However, contained is this provision is also language that says, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.”

While it seems to exempt U.S. citizens, it still allows the potential for the detainment of U.S. citizens if captured outside of the United States.

But the next section does seem to allow for the potential for American citizens to be detained.

Section 1022 of the bill refers to a subset of “covered persons” defined as “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force” and someone who “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.”

If a person is detained that falls under this subset, the bill says the requirement for military custody “does not extend to citizens to the United States.”

The key word here is “requirement,” which does seem to suggest that the option for indefinite military detainment is still available but is simply not mandatory.

When Obama signed the NDAA into law (after backing down from his empty veto threat), he also offered a signing statement that said, “I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.

“Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation. My administration will interpret Section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war and all other applicable law.”

While that might be true (it’s too early to tell), it really suggests only that the Obama administration will not interpret the NDAA to include American citizens but completely leaves open the possibility that subsequent administrations will have a different interpretation.

Ultimately whether or not these provisions of the NDAA will be used in the worst-case scenario manner that critics fear is yet to be determined.

But there is no question that the bill absolutely could be interpreted to be used in such a manner, even if such a worst-case scenario is perhaps unlikely.

This is just the recent in a long line of measures the Obama administration has supported that curtail civil liberties in this country. Obama has proven to be just as hawkish, if not more so, on foreign policy than the Bush administration —  and many liberals and progressives are starting to feel this is not what they voted for in 2008.

The very fact that this legal ambiguity exists in a bill such as this is utterly unforgivable.

While the NDAA might not exactly be the end of the Bill of Rights as we know it, the bill is a dangerous piece of legislation that should have never been passed or signed into law with such shameful and troubling ambiguities.

 W. Paul Smith
Opinions Editor 

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Obama announces plan to aid students in debt

President Barack Obama has announced a new plan for helping college graduates with student loan debt.

The plan includes the reduction of monthly payments (from minimum payments of 15 percent of monthly earnings to 10 percent of monthly earnings) and forgiveness of loan debt after 20 years of monthly payments. The current plan forgives debt after 25 years.

“I think the intent of the president is to promote higher education,” Sue McKinnon, the associate vice president for enrollment management and interim director of the UWF financial aid department at the University of West Florida, said in a phone interview Friday.

McKinnon said that there are several stipulations college graduates must have already adhered to in order to qualify for either plan, including a record of making payments on time every month.

“It doesn’t impact the majority of students,” McKinnon said.

McKinnon also said that graduates paying off student loans must also be employed, and only subsidized federal loans are covered in Obama’s plans.

McKinnon added that for most graduates paying off student loan debt, the difference between this plan and the previous plan may only be $5 or $6 a month.

“It’s really, really not as good as it sounds,” McKinnon said.

Tristen Kent, a senior business major at UWF, said that she believes if the president wants to help, he should improve the chances of students earning grants they don’t have to repay or work on lowering the sky-high interest rates of student loans.

Kent also said that she thinks the amount of complaining done by students who blame the government concerning student loans is unacceptable.

“If you have time to sit down and hold up a sign forever, you have time to get a job,” Kent said of the picketing students on Wall Street.

Kent also said that she thinks the plan encourages people to make minimum payments for as long as possible so that they can have their slate wiped clean after 20 years.

“I think it’s a slippery slope,” Kent said.

McKinnon said that her main concern is the way students and parents manage student loans.

“Students and families need to look at the loans as they take them out,” McKinnon said. “Are they taking them out for a lifestyle or are they taking them out for tuition and fees?”

Rachel Giles
Staff Writer 

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We can’t wait: Helping manage student loan debt

Letter from President Obama:

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to get out of Washington and talk with folks across the country about how we can create jobs and get our economy growing faster.

This is a tough time for a lot of Americans — especially young people.  You’ve come of age at a time of profound change.  The world has gotten more connected, but it’s also gotten more competitive.  And for decades, too many of our institutions — from Washington to Wall Street — failed to adapt, culminating in the worst financial crisis and recession since the Great Depression.

For the last three years, we’ve worked to stabilize the economy, and we’ve made some progress. But we still have a long way to go. And now, as you’re getting ready to head out into the world, many of you are watching your friends and classmates struggle to find work. You’re wondering what’s in store for your future, and I know that can be scary.

The truth is, the economic problems we face today didn’t happen overnight, and they won’t be solved overnight. But the fact that you’re investing in your education right now tells me that you believe in the future of America. You want to be a part of it. And you know that there are steps we can take right now to put Americans back to work and give our economy a boost.

The problem is, there are some in Washington who just don’t share that sense of urgency. That’s why it’s been so disappointing to see Republicans in Congress block jobs bills from going forward – bills that independent economists say could create millions of jobs though the kinds of proposals supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past.

Now, the best way to attack our economic challenges and put hundreds of thousands of people back to work is through bold action in Congress.  That’s why I’m going to keep demanding that members of Congress to vote on common-sense, paid-for jobs proposals.  And I hope you’ll send them a message to do the right thing for your future and the future of our country.

But we can’t wait for Congress to do its job. So where it won’t act, I will. That’s why I’ve announced a new policy that will help families whose home values have fallen to refinance their mortgages and save thousands of dollars. We made it easier for veterans to get jobs putting their skills to work in hospitals and community health centers.

And at the University of Colorado at Denver, I announced steps we’re taking to make college more affordable and to make it even easier for students like you to get out of debt faster.

Michelle and I know what it feels like to leave school with a mountain of debt.  We didn’t come from wealthy families. By the time we both graduated from law school, we had about $120,000 worth of debt between us. And even though we were lucky enough to land good jobs with steady incomes, it still took us almost 10 years to finally pay it all off. It wasn’t easy.

Living with that much debt forces you to make some tough choices. And when a big chunk of every paycheck goes towards student loans, it isn’t just painful for you — it’s painful to our economy and harmful to our recovery.

That’s why we’re making changes that will give about 1.6 million students the ability to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income starting next year.  We’re also going to take steps to help you consolidate your loans so that instead of making multiple payments to multiple lenders every month, you only have to make one payment a month at a better interest rate. And we want to start giving students a simple fact sheet called “Know Before You Owe” so you can have all the information you need to make your own decision about paying for college.  That’s something Michelle and I wish we had.

These changes will make a real difference for millions of Americans. We’ll help more young people figure out how to afford college. We’ll put more money in your pocket after you graduate. We’ll make it easier to buy a house or save for retirement. And we’ll give our economy a boost at a time when it desperately needs it.

That’s not just important for our country right now — it’s important for our future. Michelle and I are where we are today because our college education gave us a chance. Our parents and their generation worked and sacrificed to hand down the dream of opportunity to us.

Now it’s our turn. That dream of opportunity is what I want for my daughters, and for all of you. And even in these tough times, we are going to make that dream real once again.

In the weeks ahead, I’m going to keep doing everything in my power to make a difference for the American people — including young people like you. Because here in America, when we find a problem, we fix it. When we face a challenge, we meet it. We don’t wait. And I hope you’ll join me.

Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States. This op-ed was sent to numerous universities across the country.

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