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HR 1540 aka NDAA 2012 Sub Sec D 1021 1022
Background to the NDAA
To fully understand the NDAA’s provisions on detention, a brief review of recent history is needed.
During the Bush years, despite massive public and press attention to the administration’s detention policies, Congress remained largely out of the picture. While the USA PATRIOT Act contained some provisions on detention, they were never put to use; the Bush administration preferred to create a detention system that was, it assumed, largely free of legal constraints and judicial oversight.
The military prison at Guantanamo and the CIA’s secret prison system were therefore created by executive fiat, without congressional input or restriction. When cases challenging Guantanamo and the military detention of US citizens on US soil got to court, however, the administration claimed that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a joint resolution passed by Congress in September 2001, gave congressional approval for those detentions.
The AUMF, which authorizes the president to use “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11 attacks, or who harbored such persons or groups, is silent on the issue of detention. A plurality of the US Supreme Court agreed with the administration, nonetheless, that the power to detain is necessarily implied by the power to use military force.
Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the 2004 ruling that upheld the US government’s detention power, left many questions unanswered. Because it involved a prisoner who was captured during the armed conflict in Afghanistan, it did not raise the Bush administration’s broad claims of a “global war on terror,” in which terrorism suspects far from any battlefield were treated like enemy soldiers. It did not even give much guidance regarding the scope of the armed conflict, geographic or temporal, although it included, in dicta, a skeptical reference to the administration’s broadest claims.
Congress maintained its hands-off approach to detention during the entirety of President Bush’s two terms in office, even as it legislated on closely related issues like minimum standards of humane treatment and the rules for military commission proceedings. When Obama took office in January 2009, however, Congress’s attitude changed. Many members of Congress reacted negatively to Obama’s stated goal of closing Guantanamo, and, since that time, Congress has imposed various ever tighter restrictions on the release and transfer of detainees.
One last historical fact that is important to remember, when considering the scope of the NDAA, is that the Bush administration held two American citizens in indefinite military detention, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. While Hamdi was picked up as a combatant in Afghanistan in 2002, P