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Parenthood Plus: December 27, 2011

A Mystery Story

A few weeks ago, in an attempt to fight off a cold, I ordered a bowl of chicken soup at a local lunch counter. One of the counter boys who is in his late teens asked me if I heard that the United States was just declared a war-zone by the U.S. Senate. I said, “What are you talking about?”

He filled me in. But what he told me didn’t fully compute. What he said, in a nutshell, was that the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would empower the U.S. Military to arrest American citizens and detain them anywhere in the world without being charged or without a trial. I didn’t want to be dismissive. I questioned myself, “Why didn’t I hear about this in the mainstream media?”

I asked him where he heard this. He told me that he read about it on the Internet. When I got home I searched the Internet. What I found was some alternative-media commentary and the actual text of a recent bill (the National Defense Authorization Act - S 1867).

On the evening of December 2, 2011 the U.S. Senate voted, by an overwhelming majority of 93 – 7, to approve what some commentators described as the darkest piece of legislation ever passed in America. Both New York senators voted “yes.”

After reading the commentary about S 1867 I wondered, “Is there a real threat to our rights, or is this a radical spin?” If I was having trouble making sense of it I imagined others would as well.

The key issues in question are sections 1031 and 1032, which allow the president to authorize the U.S. Armed Forces to detain and hold in custody a person who was a member or part of al Qaeda or “an associated force” and participated in planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.

I wondered what the fuss was all about. Someone, in a man-on-the-street interview that I found on YouTube, said of the legislation, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about.” Or, is the devil is in the details. For example, what does “member of an associated force” mean? Could it be stretched to mean anyone with a dissenting voice who government officials perceive as a threat? Could it be someone close to you who is exercising freedom of speech or association?

The interpretations of the commentators were that the legislation would authorize the U.S. military to operate on American soil and to arrest and detain American citizens with no charge, no trial and no oversight. They concluded that by dismissing the right to due process, this legislation, if fully enacted, leaves American citizens without the protections of the Constitution and invalidates the Bill of Rights. If signed into law, they reasoned, it could mean secret arrests, no due process, and no right to remain silent and to be tried by a jury of one’s peers, secret prisons, unlawful interrogation and indefinite detention without being charged with a crime.

Ninety-three out of 100 U.S. senators signed on to this legislation. What am I missing? I couldn’t find anything substantial in the mainstream media about this. What should I say to my young friend next time I see him at the lunch counter? Does he have a right to be worried? Do we?

This “exercise” brought to my attention just how difficult it is for young people (and us older ones too) to synthesize the glut of information that is available today. The least we can do is to listen and be co-investigators with young people, attempting together to sort out the mysteries that besiege us in this information-age.