There has been public outcry concerning the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed into law last December by Barack Obama. While most of the bill has not been a major concern, there is a section that is causing a stir in the American public. The main issue concerning the bill is the presidential power to lock people up without a trial, which is granted in this new bill. Many have been saying this constitutes a “lawless imprisonment” in that the president can order the sentencing of any civilian to be arrested upon request. The bill in question authorizes the military to arrest and imprison civilians without charge or trial, based on suspicion of terrorism alone. The Virginia legislature is objecting to this bill, mainly the section dealing with the imprisonment of a civilian especially if the imprisoned civilian is a United States citizen. Many have been claiming that this is an outright abridgement of our rights since it is written in the Constitution that no one should ever be convicted of treason without a trial. With this act, federal law allows for a person to be held in prison without any trial whatsoever and with only suspicion linking that person to terrorist activity such as by Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
Student Researcher: Ashley Raynak, Indian River State College
David Swanson, Virginia Says No to Lawless Imprisonment, Global Research, February 29, 2012 http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=29546
Faculty Instructor: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College
The NDAA has raised an ethical concern involving the outright denial of a U.S. citizen’s right to a trial in a court of law. According to the U.S. Constitution all citizens have a right to a trial. A citizen must also be charged with a crime for which there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. With this new law in place, the president is given power to subvert citizens’ rights invested in them by the Constitution. This raises concern over whether too much power is being given to the president.
In a democracy, where emphasis is on the equality of its citizens under law, citizens are not supposed to be imprisoned for the suspicion of terrorism without any substantial evidence supporting the claim. It is not just to imprison people without giving them a chance to defend themselves before an impartial judge or jury in a court of law.
There are a variety of ethical approaches to deliberate when facing the ethics of lawless imprisonment. One approach could be based on the utilitarian perspective of what is considered morally right. According to this ethical approach, a morally right action is one that maximizes an intrinsically good value for a society. In which case, “lawless imprisonment” is not a morally good action. With this new law, many U.S. citizens will predictably find the government untrustworthy since it is taking away a human right recognized by the U.S. Constitution. They will be concerned with the policy creep whereby the government can take control of its people instead of the people making its collective will known through government; leading to the U.S. becoming more of a dictatorship and less of a democracy.
Another view concerning such lawless imprisonment can come from Kantian ethics, the ethical view espoused by the German thinker, Immanuel Kant. According to Kant, a morally right action arises out of a duty rather than out of one’s own need or desire. A morally right action must also be universalized, meaning that if it is right to treat someone else a certain way, it must also be right to treat the person performing the act in the same way. So according to this theory lawless imprisonment is also a morally wrong action. It cannot be considered a right action since throwing someone in jail for suspicion of a crime comes from the desire of the government to control its people, not from any duty that can be universalized. The government does not even need to have evidence to support its allegations of terrorism. This cannot be universalized since the president would find it wrong if he were himself imprisoned without any reasoning other than the government thinking he may be involved in terrorism.
The president is supposed to be voted in by the nation’s people to represent them as a country. With this new law the president is given authority to go against its citizens to imprison them without a defensible rationale. The U.S. citizens should be able to trust fully in their president and the government as a whole; but when the U.S. citizens’ rights are being taken away, such trust is seriously undermined