Broad coalition fights against the NDAA, for HB558, and for the right to due process

Broad coalition fights against the NDAA, for HB558, and for the right to due process

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This week’s filibuster by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) of the John Brennan nomination confirms just how unpredictable and fluid the politics of civil liberties are in Washington, DC these days: First we have a Republican senator leading the fight – joined by Democrats like Ron Wyden (D-OR) -- to learn just where due process lines are drawn these days. Second, we have a Democratic White House dragging its feet before grudgingly conceding there are any liberties.

Just two weeks ago, Annapolis witnessed a similar “odd bedfellows” moment, as Delegate Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel) and Sara Love (legislative director of the ACLU of Maryland) sat down together to urge the House Health and Government Operations Committee to consider the “Maryland Liberty Preservation Act of 2013” (HB558). The legislation would prohibit “an agency of the State, a county of the State, an employee of the State or a county acting in an official capacity, or a member of the Maryland National Guard or the Maryland Defense Force, on official State duty, to knowingly aid an agency of the United States in the detention of a person in accordance with” the troubling indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, as passed in early 2012.

The NDAA provisions authorize (or purport to authorize) the U.S. military to arrest, indefinitely detain, and deny a trial or day in court to anyone—even US citizens—accused of a “belligerent act,” or any terror-related offense. Mere allegation of membership in or support of an alleged terrorist group could be the basis for indefinite detention.

This sets up modern-day versions of the “Count of Monte Cristo” – people indefinitely detained by the military without the hope of a fair hearing, for vague reasons that can amount to little more than associating with the wrong people or running afoul of the politics of the day. As Love pointed out in her testimony, the “breadth of the NDAA’s worldwide detention authority violates at least the 5th and 6th Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as Article III of the Constitution. […] Furthermore, the provisions of the NDAA authorizing the indefinite military detention of civilians violate the laws of war by which the United States is bound and which it helped to establish, because it is not limited to people captured in the context of an actual armed conflict.”

Joining Delegate Dwyer and Ms. Love to add their voices in support of the bill were Marylanders representing a bipartisan—even transpartisan—coalition of political and ethnic backgrounds. Silver Spring resident Sue Udry, excutive director of the Defending Dissent Foundation, spoke to the concern that the NDAA raises for free speech and protest: “…the fact remains that it could easily be turned into a tool of political repression. And that, unfortunately, is not unprecedented in our country.”

Conservative Marylanders like Scott Strzelczyk pointed out that the rights at stake go back to the Magna Carta: “In nothing more than a stroke of the pen, a thousand years – a millennium – of due process rights are obliterated. You either believe in due process for all persons or you do not."

Mudusar Raza, president of the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), warned that while the NDAA doesn’t extend a requirement to detain an American in military custody under its provisions, “the authority or option to do so remains, “ and that “To deny any person the right to due process in the name of national security makes our nation less free, but not more secure.”

I was at the hearing as well, testifying on behalf of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition. The constitutional arguments—and common sense arguments—against the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA seem so compelling to me that it’s hard to believe we need to convince an erstwhile Constitutional law professor or the U.S. judicial system of their validity.

But we do – and part of the way we need to do that is by withdrawing any support for enforcing and implementing its provisions, in a way similar to what many did over a hundred and fifty years ago in refusing to help enforce the immoral, unconstitutional Fugitive Slave Act.

And part of the way we need to do that is by working together with new allies on the left and on the right to pass bills like HB558 in Maryland and across the country.

Right now, supporters of HB558—including Delegate Dwyer, the ACLU, our coalition, and a growing list of other organizations—urge Committee Chairman Hammen to allow HB558 to come to a vote before his committee in its original form, and urge him to vote for its passage out of committee for consideration by the House of Delegates. If you’re a member of an organization that would like to join our letter to this effect, contact us at

And to let Delegate Hammen know yourself, call Delegate Hammen’s offices at either (410) 841-3772, (301) 858-3772, or toll free at 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3772.

Thomas Nephew is a founding member of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, He's been a resident of Takoma Park, MD since 2000, where he's been active on issues ranging from license plate scanners and Metro bag searches to impeachment and the NDAA.  He has a public policy master's degree from the University of Michigan; he is married and the proud father of one daughter, Maddie.