Military Law in America

December 5, 2011

Dirty Hands, Military


The United States Senate recently passed a bill which contains a section which allows the United States military to arrest United States citizens within America’s borders. This seems like an incredibly disturbing prospect. While the Middle East is in turmoil in a struggle for freedoms, bills like this are silently passing through our congress, bringing us closer to military law.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R - S.C.)

What seems even more disturbing is the fact that only 1 US Senator, Jon Kyl of Arizona, voted against the amendment within the bill which would give the US military the ability to arrest US citizens in America. The bill still needs to pass through the House of Representatives and will likely be vetoed by President Obama, but the simple fact that 99% of the US Senate voted in favor of the provision is cause enough for concern.

Furthermore, Senators in favor of the bill, particularly Lindsey Graham, have some even more disturbing explanations for their support of the bill. Graham said in defense of the provision:

“The threats we face as a nation are growing. Homegrown terrorism is going to become a greater reality, and we need to have tools. Law enforcement is one tool, but in some cases holding people who have decided to help al Qaeda and turn on the rest of us and try to kill us so we can hold them long enough to interrogate them to find out what they’re up to makes sense.”

Thus, in a sense, Graham believes that the government is facing the Dirty Hands problem. The Dirty Hands problem requires for something bad to be committed in order to accomplish something good for the people. In Graham’s eyes, the government must reduce the rights of the American people in order to fight “homegrown terrorism” effectively.  Graham further explains his position in a quote which I find to be even more disturbing:

“When you hold somebody under the criminal justice system you have to read them their rights right off the bat. Under the law of war you don’t because the purpose is to gather intelligence. We need that tool now as much as any time, including World War II.”

I personally do not buy the argument for this bill. I do not think that this bill should be considered an example of Dirty Hands because I think the passage of the bill will only lead to bad results. I think that this law could only be used unjustly, and I am not convinced that only terrorists will be targeted if this bill passes. If law enforcement officials legitimately have reason to arrest a person, they should have enough proof to uphold their claim in the justice system. Is that not the whole point of due process of law?

Egyptian military tanks during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011

Some are arguing that the intent of this bill is not to target US citizens with the military or to limit the rights of the people. However, the US Senate shot down an amendment to the bill which would prevent the military from detaining US citizens without a hearing or trial. With this act, the Senate has made it clear that their intent is to limit the rights of US citizens, removing their right to a trial.

Also, to suggest that America is a warzone is very disturbing. No war is occurring within American borders. This kind of rhetoric seems very similar to the claims of many Arab leaders who used and are using their military to fight “terrorists” within their countries. Suggesting that we need to resort to tactics used in WWII is incredibly disturbing as well. Will the military also be allowed to place Muslims or other “suspected terrorists” in internment camps as they did to Japanese Americans during WWII?

Thus, I personally believe that only bad will come out of such a bill. The rights of Americans will be immensely violated if this bill actually goes into effect, and I do not believe taking the rights of any person (whether a US citizen or not) can result in any good. Consequently, I do not think that this is a Dirty Hands problem since some good must be attained for the Congress to be involved in Dirty Hands.

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6 Comments on “Military Law in America”

  1. Austin Telling Says:

    Great post, I was thinking about making one on the same topic myself. I find this bill to be the antithesis of what America is supposed to be about. It may seem like I’m some crazy conspiracy theorist, but I fear the slippery slope that this bill could cause. The bill says only those who are suspected to be affiliated with terrorist activities an be indefinitely detained, but what if in the future the definition of “terrorism” is changed to target domestic movements in the United States, like the tea party or OWS?

    The constitution is explicit in that all Americans are guaranteed due process and a speedy trial. I’m not a constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that this bill is in direct violation.

  2. ldahbour Says:

    This is a solid post. I completely agree with the analogy you made between Senator Graham and corrupted Arab leaders. There could not be a more valid comparison. The rhetoric of fear is a popular one in the US Senate, particularly in the Republican party. This rhetoric is the explanation of many poor decisions made by our Senate which is why their approval rating is below the ground. It is an alarming fact that this bill was passed with only one vote in opposition. There must a huge lobby in Washington that supports the bill. It will be interesting to see if this actually the case and which lobby/individuals have been pushing this bill forward, because they must have a very convincing argument. This bill is a sign of gravitating toward military law and it is very worrisome.

  3. Brian Hall Says:

    I really can’t believe that this bill passed. Frankly it scares me the direction our government has been heading in the past 12 years since the end of the Clinton administration. I don’t know the exact legal implications of this policy or why it was passed, so I’ll hold my judgement until I see what the fallout is like, but upon initial inspection this law appears to be unconstitutional. If we no longer have the right to a fair trial when arrested by military forces, what does this country point to as a source of legitimacy? I never agreed to this policy, and considering that 99% of the electorate appears to have been in support of the bill, it is unlikely that voting for different representatives would have made any difference in this case. I wonder what popular opinion is on this issue.

    Also, why the hell did we sell Egypt M1 Abrams? I know our relations have been amicable with them ever sense their peace treaty with Israel, and generally we are willing to sell military equipment to anyone who isn’t overtly associated with crimes against humanity, but still. That picture is disturbingly similar to what I imagine a military crackdown in our country would look like (minus the one random Soviet tank in the middle).

  4. JoshH Says:

    The passing of this bill through Congress does further exemplify a trend in American policy changes towards martial law. Of course to extrapolate that America will become a militaristic nation from the simple passing of this bill, the implications are worrisome. In the past decade, America has seen an increase in policy changes that expand domestic security, including the justification of the invasion of privacy on American citizens. Now the government hopes to justify essentially an expulsion of the fourth amendment because of a theoretical terrorist threat in America. I do believe the fear of domestic terrorist threats to be justified; however, I worry that the policy changes in the past several years combined with this newest bill, are ushering in a new era of Cold War-esque fears that will ultimately diminish the individual rights of American citizens.

  5. ymsyed Says:

    I think I have the same sentiment as others regarding this law. It is most definitely a violation of the basic rights given to us by the Constitution. I cannot believe that 99 out of the 100 congressmen in the US Senate approved this bill. However, I do not believe that it will make it through the House, and if by some off chance it does, I’m sure President Obama would likely veto the bill (pull a David Stern, if you will). Even if it were to somehow become a law, I believe that any federal judge reviewing it would see it as unconstitutional and a detriment to our civil rights.

    It is somewhat scary that the Senate can find reasons to justify such a bill in this day and age. As everyone else has said, it is extremely disturbing and makes me fear that other questionable bills such as this one could be passed in the future.

  6. luniho Says:

    I, for one, am completely terrified of the implications of this act. I completely agree with the author of this post: this in no way represents a case of dirty hands. American citizens have an entire Bill of Rights that is intended to protect them. With this act, in which these same citizens could be held without a trial, their constitutional rights are being trampled.

    Dirty hands represents a situation in which a morally questionable decision must be carried out for the good of the people. This act only removes constitutional securities from Americans; the number of beneficial arrests that are made under this act will never outweigh the harm done by disabling the rights of all citizens.

    I am sickened, even disgusted that 99 men and women voted in favor of this measure. These individuals are elected to protect and serve their constituents; in this vein, they ought to preserve and strengthen the rights of individuals. Shame on the members of the Senate for supporting this measure.

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