BERLIN, Conn. – Civil rights and peace and justice organizations in Connecticut are the latest groups to join a nationwide movement to rescind the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act.
On Saturday, February 18, nearly 150 people met in the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford’s mosque in Berlin, Connecticut, and formed the Stop Indefinite Detention Connecticut coalition to oppose Section 1021 an 1022 of the NDAA. The meeting was endorsed by more than 30 nongovernmental organizations.
Mongi Dhaouadi, the executive director of the Council on American-Islam Relations, Connecticut Chapter, hosted the meeting, which he organized with activist Chris Gauveau. “All of us will adopt today a resolution with a clear sense that we will defeat and we will repeal this no good law,” Dhaouadi told the crowd.
The $662 billion NDAA of 2012, S. 1867 was signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve. The bill gives the president unprecedented power to have the military seize suspected terrorists anywhere in the world, including American citizens on U.S. soil, and keep them locked up in detention indefinitely without charge or trial.
When the House version of the bill passed last spring Indigenous Peoples worried that the legislation could be used against them for asserting their rights to self-determination and sovereignty or for protecting their lands and resources against exploitation by governments or corporations. Now opponents of the bill in the wider community argue that it violates the U.S. Constitution in a number of ways and opposition to the indefinite detention sections of the law by states, civil liberty and justice organizations is growing rapidly as a nationwide movement. Voices of opposition have come from all parts of the political spectrum including both the Occupy movement and Tea Partiers, according to the National Catholic Reporter. In early February, the two groups demonstrated together against indefinite detention in Massachusetts. “The Occupiers and Tea Partiers rightly fear the NDAA marks yet another erosion of our civil liberties,” the Catholic Reporter said.
Several states have drafted legislation to revoke the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA, including Washington, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Maryland, according to the Tenth Amendment Center. On February 14 the Virginia House of Delegates passed HB 1160 by a vote of 96 out of 100 members. The bill presents a Tenth Amendment argument that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” It prohibits agents of the state government from “assisting an agency of the armed forces of the United States in the conduct of the investigation, prosecution, or detention of a citizen in violation of the United States Constitution, the Constitution of Virginia, or any Virginia law or regulation.”
The Connecticut meeting included a diverse group of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Caucasians, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and representatives of various political, civil rights and peace groups. Steven Downs, an attorney and co-founder of Project SALAM, the executive director of the National Coalition to protect Civil Freedoms, and author of Victims of America’s Dirty Wars, provided a historic background from World War II through the Cold War leading up to the current “war on terror” and the NDAA. He talked about the use of what has come to be known as “lawfare,” the use of the law as a weapon of war. “Law and war are in a sense opposites. Law tries to set down rules in which everybody is treated equally and fairly and war picks out a certain group of people to target as an enemy,” Downs said. “When we go to war one of the resources is the law itself. This should not happen. We should be able to say we’re going to continue to treat everyone equally.”
Under former President George W. Bush, the government acted illegally in wire tapping people without authority and other violations, Downs said, but Obama, being a constitutional lawyer, decided to continue the same actions, but make them legal. “He doesn’t feel comfortable holding people against the law so he’s making it legal and in doing that he’s building an institution that is very, very detrimental to our own society. It suggests that anyone under a mere suspicious of having an ideology that would support Al Qaeda or ‘associated forces’—whoever they are—can be held indefinitely without charge. This is so contrary to who we are as Americans that it’s almost unthinkable.”
Muslims in particular have been targeted since the criminal 9/11 tragedy. Several speakers talked about the scandal surrounding an Associated Press news report released recently showing that the New York Police Department has monitored the activities of Muslim students and professors in at least 16 colleges in the Northeast, including three Ivy League schools. Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, talked about the impact on the communities of the 15,000 federal and state law enforcement informants that are “swarming our mosques – and they are there because it says so in the documents; they’re called mosque crawlers…This is killing all security. What it does is it creates mistrust between the community and law enforcement, but it also creates mistrust among our own community, like, you’re sitting in a mosque and you don’t know if the people sitting next to you are informers? You can’t trust anyone.”
Speakers also reminded the audience that “injustice to one is injustice to all,” and although Muslims are being targeted today, other groups can be targeted tomorrow. “Even though a lot of the information we receive is specific to the Muslim community, this is not a Muslim issue; this is an American issue and it’s a human issue,” said Cyrus McGoldrick of the New York Chapter of CAIR. A lot depends on Islamophobia, McGoldrick said, describing a “well funded cottage industry” that manufactures and spreads the bigotry against Muslims. “War depends on Islamophobia. Zionism depends on Islamophobia. We need to see these issues as all connect.” They are not new issues, McGoldrick said. “This goes back to the original colonization of this country and moving Native Americans into concentration camps that we call reservations. So it’s really important that we continue the solidarity and turn this into political leverage.”
Groups endorsing the coalition include the National Lawyers Guild-CT Chapter, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition for Equity and Justice, West Hartford Citizens for Peace and Justice, CT United for Peace, American Civil Liberties Union-CT, Middle East Crisis Committee, Civic Trust Public Lobbying Company, Veterans for Peace Ch.42, Occupy Hartford, Connecticut Center for a New Economy, the Israel/Palestine Peace Group of Northeast CT, the Greater New Haven Peace Council, We Refuse To Be Enemies, A Better Way Foundation, Hartford Organizing Group, the New England Council of Masajid, and the American Coalition for Good Government.