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Protesters gathered at Santa Barbara’s De la Guerra on Tuesday afternoon to testify before the Santa Barbara City Council in opposition to the controversial National Defense Authorization Act.
President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law on Dec. 31, 2011, authorizing $662 billion in funding for various national security and defense programs during the 2012 fiscal year. The legislation evaluates military costs and Department of Defense health care spending, imposes new sanctions and authorizes the detainment of suspected terrorists.
According to Bryan Rosen, a representative from Concerned Citizens for Environmental Health, demonstrators feel the bill violates citizens’ Constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial.
“To do this without evidence, to be able to put anyone away — any American citizen — in military custody without trial, to me, is highly, highly dangerous to our democracy,” Rosen said. “We had an attack on the towers and they’ve waited until now to take away our basic constitutional rights.”
According to Rosen, protesters aim to mobilize the public against the legislation and spur additional amendments to the bill.
“The public doesn’t know about this and they need to know about this,” Rosen said. “Everybody I talk to, all walks of the political spectrum [including] tea party people, think this is dangerous to give the government this kind of power. The Founding Fathers thought it was very important to have checks and balances on government power.”
The NDAA has garnered significant attention from various human rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The organizations claim the bill allows the President to overstep his legal powers to potentially detain U.S. citizens indefinitely.
Protester Judith Everett said she opposes the law because of its oppressive nature and focus on military spending.
“I am here to speak against NDAA, especially because it is very restrictive of open discussion and protests and challenge and change, and I think that we must work to have it cancelled,” Everett said. “Yesterday, Congressperson Lois Capps held a town hall meeting through the telephone … the main concerns were the economy, lack of jobs, how to get money for health care and also, her concern, of course, was looking after the troops. I suggested that we could solve these problems by reducing military spending, because more than half the resources of this country are spent on war preparation.”
Third-year political science major Danielle Thompson said the law’s vague language creates troubling uncertainty as to how it may be put into practice.
“They can still detain anyone who they suspect to hold sympathy with terrorist groups … which could lead to obvious international issues and false imprisonment. The military and the president shouldn’t have that power outside of war, and they do because of this act.”
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who voted for the NDAA when the act came before the Senate on Dec. 15, spoke out against its detainment clause and, shortly thereafter, introduced the Due Process Guarantee Act to amend the 1971 Non-Detention Act. While both the House and Senate versions of the DPGA — S. 2003 and H.R. 3702 — currently remain in the Committees on the Judiciary, the act would nullify the section of the NDAA that currently allows the President to detain U.S. citizens without a trial.
In a statement released with her introduction of the DPGA, Feinstein said she intends to uphold the Constitutional right of a fair trial for all citizens.
“The beauty of our Constitution is that it gives every citizen the basic due process right to a trial on their charges. Experiences over the last decade prove the country is safer now than before the 9/11 attacks. Terrorists are behind bars, dangerous plots have been thwarted. The system is working,” Feinstein said in the statement. “We must clarify U.S. law to state unequivocally that the government cannot indefinitely detain American citizens inside this country without trial or charge. I strongly believe that Constitutional due process requires U.S. citizens apprehended in the U.S. should never be held in indefinite detention. And that is what this new legislation would accomplish.”
Santa Barbara City Councilmember Cathy Murillo said while the City Council hopes to reflect the views of Santa Barbara citizens, there is little it can do to affect change within Congress.
“A city council can pass a resolution about anything, but we do not have direct influence on [Congresswoman] Lois Capps or on the U.S. Congress. It is largely a ceremonial gesture; it makes a statement,” Murillo said. “… I can tell you that I am hoping Congress will look at this again and take into consideration that people are really concerned about their civil rights.”
For more information, visit www.santabarbaraca.gov.