A report from one of Salon’s online contributors, John Knefel, claims that even the most staunch supporters of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) cannot defend it against accusations that it violates the rights of US citizens. In a discussion with Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), Gibson based his defense of the NDAA on Section 1021(e) of the law, which states,
Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.
Defendants of the NDAA have repeatedly submitted this specific section as proof that the NDAA does not change the existing law protecting US citizens and legal aliens. But as Knefel points out, “existing law is part of the problem.” Most notably, there is the case of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born Muslim cleric, who was killed on September 30, 2011 by a missile fired from an American drone aircraft. Although Awlaki was considered one of the most prominent English-speaking advocates of violent jihad against the United States, this strike appeared to be the first time since the 9/11 attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately targeted and killed by American forces.
His assassination was ordered by the Obama administration in 2010 despite his US citizenship, which naturally provoked lawsuits from human rights and civil liberties groups. According to The New York Times, the administration issued a secret legal memorandum that opened the door to killing a US citizen without trial. This secret memorandum remained intact despite the fact that it contradicts an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various structures of the international laws of war. Although this secret memo was tailored specifically to the case of Awlaki and does not allow for the assassination of any US citizen suspected of involvement with a terrorist organization, it does demonstrate how existing law allows for complete disregard of constitutional liberties under certain circumstances.
In short, Section 1021(e) of the NDAA offers little assurance that civil liberties will remain intact. Even if supporters of the NDAA are correct in their statements that this law only reinforces existing law, they can by no means justify the claim that it will have little or no impact on US citizens.