Mongi Dhaouadi, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Connecticut Chapter, hosted the meeting, which he organized with activist Chris Gauvreau. “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 was signed into law by President 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 it 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. Other opponents argue that the bill violates the U.S. Constitution, and protests against it have spread across the country as states, civil liberty and justice organizations join a rapidly growing nationwide movement. Voices of protest have come from all parts of the political spectrum, including both the Occupy movement and Tea Partiers. In early February, people from the two groups demonstrated together in Massachusetts. “The Occupiers and Tea Partiers rightly fear the NDAA marks yet another erosion of our civil liberties,” the National Catholic Reporter said.
Several states have drafted legislation to revoke the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA, including Washington, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Maryland. On February 14 the Virginia House of Delegates passed H.B. 1160 by a vote of 96 to 4. The bill presents a 10th Amendment argument: “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.” That 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 Natives, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans and representatives of various political, civil rights and peace groups. Stephen Downs, an attorney and co-founder of Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims), the executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, and author of Victims of America’s Dirty Wars, provided a historic background for this detention law, from World War II through the Cold War leading up to the current war on terror. He also 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 federal government acted illegally in wiretapping people without authority, Downs said, adding that Obama, being a constitutional lawyer, decided to continue the same actions but make them legal with this legislation. “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 suspicion 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 by the government since the 9/11 tragedy. Several speakers talked about the recent Associated Press news report that the New York City Police Department has monitored the activities of Muslim students and professors in at least 16 colleges in the Northeast. 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 who 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.… it creates mistrust between the community and law enforcement, but it also creates mistrust among our own community.… 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 if 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, a spokesman for the New York Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He said there is a “well-funded cottage industry” that manufactures and spreads bigotry against Muslims. “War depends on Islamophobia. Zionism depends on Islamophobia. We need to see [that] these issues…all connect.”
They are not new issues, he 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.”