Revolution #255, January 8, 2012

The National Defense Authorization Act: An Act of Infamy for Congress and for Obama

Editors' Note: On New Year’s Eve, Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the U.S. military for this year. Among the provisions of the bill is one that codifies into law the indefinite military detention of people, including U.S. citizens, without charges in the name of the “war on terror.” The U.S. has already been using this power on people imprisoned at Guantánamo and elsewhere, but now this has become official law. Revolution is reprinting with permission an article by sociology professor and author Dennis Loo on the fascistic nature of this move by Obama and Congress. The article originally appeared at before Obama signed the NDAA and before some changes were made in the law. However, its essential character has not changed. Obama had originally objected to some aspects of the bill but agreed to sign it, according to a article, “after Congress added provisions that took the ultimate authority to detain suspects from the military’s hands and gave it to the president.” Obama also added a “signing statement,” which said that he had “serious reservations” about some provisions, in particular one that allows for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens, and he declared his administration would not authorize such detention. But this is the president that has gone even further than his predecessor, George W. Bush, in fascistic actions—including authorizing the assassination of U.S. citizens accused of terrorism, without any trial. And since this is now law, any future presidents will have official power to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens.


The White House announced on December 15, 2011 that Obama would not veto the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. The NDAA mandates the military to arrest and indefinitely detain any person, including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including on U.S. soil, who is accused by authorities as a terrorist or alleged to be providing support to terrorists and organizations designated as terrorist. It is now enough—de facto [in practice] and de jure [in law]—to be merely accused, for the sentence to be pronounced upon you by virtue of the accusation, as if Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen was now in charge: “First the sentence, then the trial!”

Except now, they won’t even bother with a trial, before or after sentence. In doing this, this president and this Congress deserve to go down now and in history as the most infamous and craven in U.S. history.

Barack Hussein Obama, the man who campaigned on a platform of undoing the illegalities and gross injustices of the Bush regime, has thus affirmed in no uncertain terms which side of history he is on—the side that Franz Kafka famously and graphically derided, the forces that posture, preen and say louder than anyone, while wrapped in the flag and the Bible, that they are the great defenders of Freedom, Liberty, and the Rule of Law, and no sooner as these words leave their lips and their poisoned pens, they cynically carry out the most lawless and most abhorrent practices. These practices deny the People the most minimal protections of due process and the rule of law, the very protections that distinguish tyrannies from just societies.

There are those who had hoped that Obama would veto this patently fascist law. But all the advance indications were negative: his complaints before December 15th’s announcement were all about the fact that he considered the NDAA to unduly restrict the executive’s prerogatives to do the same things that the NDAA extends to the military—to act under the cover of the “war on terror” to summarily arrest, detain indefinitely—and in Obama’s case, assassinate—those who were declared guilty by the government.

More to the point, as Glenn Greenwald has correctly pointed out, the NDAA merely extends to the military the policies that Bush and now Obama, who has one-upped Bush since taking office, have already been engaging in via the White House. For those who remember the “unitary executive” doctrine which came out of the Federalist Society and that the GOP had been championing and still champions today—the notion that the executive branch has unlimited, unsupervisable, unaccountable power—Obama deserves to be feted by the Federalist Society for carrying their doctrine even further than Bush dared.

It’s come to this—you are guilty if anyone in authority says you’re guilty, not because you’ve had a day in court, not because you have a chance to confront your accusers, not because you dare to think that you are innocent until proven guilty. Proof is no longer the standard. Assertion by authority is all that is now needed to put you away forever.

This so-called “war on terror” has thus revealed to the world its true character and logic: a malignant tumor on the body of society that will kill the patient. “In order to save freedom, we had to annihilate freedom.” Anyone who recognizes the magnitude of this moment dares not remain silent. Scoundrels will bray in triumph, the uninformed, apathetic and cowardly will cower, and the clear-seeing will take up the mantle of responsibility for the sake of humanity and stand up and be counted.

Dennis Loo is a professor of sociology, author, and member of the World Can’t Wait Steering Committee.

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