By Alex Kane
President Barack Obama is set to sign legislation that would codify “indefinite detention without trial into US law and expand the military’s role in holding terrorism suspects.” And as a wave of predictable settler violence, this time against the Israeli army, engulfs Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced measures that would expand the use of Israeli military detention without charge and military trials. The events give new meaning to the phrase “shared values” when explaining the US and Israel relationship.
US President Barack Obama’s apparent decision to not veto a defense spending bill that codifies indefinite detention without trial into US law and expands the military’s role in holding terrorism suspects does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the US and abroad, Human Rights Watch said today. The Obama administration had threatened to veto the bill, the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), over detainee provisions, but on December 14, 2011, it issued a statement indicating the president would likely sign the legislation.
“By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “In the past, Obama has lauded the importance of being on the right side of history, but today he is definitely on the wrong side.”
The far-reaching detainee provisions would codify indefinite detention without trial into US law for the first time since the McCarthy era when Congress in 1950 overrode the veto of then-President Harry Truman and passed the Internal Security Act. The bill would also bar the transfer of detainees currently held at Guantanamo into the US for any reason, including for trial. In addition, it would extend restrictions, imposed last year, on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to home or third countries – even those cleared for release by the administration.
In Israel, “administrative detention,” or “detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order,” has long been used to keep Palestinians locked up “for prolonged periods of time,” according to B’Tselem. And the new Israeli measures, ostensibly aimed at radical violent settlers, have worried some Israelis that the “new steps would also be used against” Israeli Palestine solidarity activists in the West Bank, as the New York Times reports. B’Tselem has also come out against Israeli steps to expand military detention.
The US and Israeli moves are not identical, to be sure. But the thread that ties these events together is this: The “war on terror,” a “war” in which the US and Israel both claim to be fighting the same fight by locking up non-citizens they declare to be “terrorists,” has come back home for Israeli and US citizens. And for those who might cheer for Israeli military measures against violent settlers, worries that the expansion of military detention could also affect leftist Israelis should be taken into account. As the US case shows, what happens to “them” can quickly become what happens to “us.”
Alex Kane is a staff reporter for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.