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Alexander Cockburn
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Friday 23 December 2011
“A company owned by, say Goldman Sachs, could enjoy delegated powers to arrest any U.S. citizen here within the borders of the USA”

Loom of the Jackboot: Obama Gives Military Extreme Powers

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Too bad Kim Jong-il kicked the bucket last weekend. If the divine hand that laid low the North Korean leader had held off for a week or so, Kim would have been sustained by the news that President Obama had signed into law a bill that puts the United States not immeasurably far from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in contempt of constitutional protections for its citizens or constitutional restraints upon criminal behavior sanctioned by the state.

At least the DPRK doesn't trumpet its status as the least-best sanctuary of liberty. American politicians, starting with the president, do little else.

A couple of months ago, came a mile-marker in America's steady slide downhill towards the status of a Banana Republic with Obama's assertion that he has the right as president to secretly order the assassination, without trial, of a U.S. citizen he deems to be working with terrorists. This followed his 2009 betrayal of his pledge to end the indefinite imprisonment without charges or trial of prisoners in Guantanamo.

After months of declaring that he would veto such legislation, Obama has now crumbled and will soon sign a monstrosity called the Levin/McCain detention bill, named for its two senatorial sponsors, Carl Levin and John McCain. It's snuggled into the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act.

The detention bill mandates — don't glide too easily past that word — that all accused terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; this includes U.S. citizens within the borders of the United States.

All onslaughts on potential sedition like to cast as wide a net as possible, so the detention act authorizes use of military force against anyone who "substantially supports" al-Qaida, the Taliban or "associated forces." Of course, "associated forces" can mean anything. The bill's language mentions, "associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or who has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces." That's language that can be bent, at will, by any prosecutor. Protest too vigorously the assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar al Awlaki by American forces in Yemen in October and one day it's not fanciful to expect the thump of the military jackboot on your front step, or on that of any anti-war organizer, or any journalist whom some zealous military intelligence officer deems to be giving objective support to the forces of evil and darkness. Since 1878, here in the U.S., the Posse Comitatus Act has limited the powers of local governments and law enforcement agencies from using federal military personnel to enforce the laws of the land. The detention bill renders the Posse Comitatus Act a dead letter.

Governments, particularly those engaged in a Great War on Terror, like to make long lists of troublesome people to be sent to internment camps or dungeons in case of national emergency. Back in Reagan's time, in the 1980s, Lt. Col. Oliver North, working out of the White House, was caught preparing just such a list. Reagan speedily distanced himself from North. Obama, the former lecturer on the U.S. Constitution, is brazenly signing this authorization for military internment camps.

There's been quite a commotion over the detention bill.

Civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have raised a stink. The New York Times denounced it editorially as "a complete political cave-in." Mindful that the votes of liberals can be useful, even vital in presidential elections, pro-Obama supporters of the bill claim that it doesn't codify "indefinite detention." But indeed it does. The bill explicitly authorizes "detention under the law of war until the end of hostilities."

Will the bill hurt Obama? Probably not too much, if at all. Contrary to widespread belief, liberals are never very energetic in protecting constitutional rights. That's more the province of libertarians and other wackos actually prepared to draw lines in the sand for matters of principle.

Simultaneous to the looming shadow of indefinite internment by the military for naysayers, we have what appears to be immunity from prosecution for private military contractors retained by the U.S. government, another extremely sinister development.

The U.S. military has been outsourcing war at a staggering rate. Even as the U.S. military quits Iraq, thousands of private military contractors remain. Suppose they are accused of torture and other abuses including murder?

The Centre for Constitutional Rights — a U.S. non-profit organization — is currently representing Iraqi civilians tortured in Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq. They seek to hold accountable two private contractors for their violations of international, federal and state law. In the words of Laura Raymond of the CCR, "By the military's own internal investigations, private military contractors from the U.S.-based corporations L-3 Services and CACI International were involved in the war crimes and acts of torture that took place, which included rape, being forced to watch family members and others be raped, severe beatings, being hung in stress positions, being pulled across the floor by genitals, mock executions and other incidents, many of which were documented by photographs. The cases — Al Shimari v. CACI and Al-Quraishi v. Nakhla and L-3 — aim to secure a day in court for the plaintiffs, none of whom were ever charged with any crimes."

But the corporations involved are now arguing in court that they should be exempt from any investigation into the allegations against them because, among other reasons, the U.S. government's interests in executing wars would be at stake if corporate contractors can be sued. And Raymond reports, "They are also invoking a new, sweeping defense. The new rule is termed 'battlefield preemption' and aims to eliminate any civil lawsuits against contractors that take place on any 'battlefield.'"

You've guessed it. As with "associated forces", an elastic concept discussed above, in the Great War on Terror the entire world is a "battlefield." So unless the CCRs suit prevails, and a ruling of a Fourth Circuit federal court panel stands, private military contractors could be immune from any type of civil liability, even for war crimes, as long as it takes place on a "battlefield."

Suppose now we take the new powers of the military in domestic law enforcement, as defined in the detention act, and anticipate the inevitable, that the military delegates these powers to private military contractors. A company owned by, say Goldman Sachs, could enjoy delegated powers to arrest any U.S. citizen here within the borders of the USA, "who has committed a belligerent act or who has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces," torture them to death and then claim "battlefield preemption."

Don't laugh.


Author pic
ABOUT Alexander Cockburn

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



C'mon, folks, US Presidents

C'mon, folks, US Presidents have been suspending habeas corpus since Abraham Lincoln. I probably wouldn't have liked it then and I surely don't like it now, but let's not pretend it's the end of the world.

Once again... You become your

Once again... You become your enemy.

jussmartenuf's picture

Obama said he would veto this

Obama said he would veto this legislation and wienied out on us again. What a disappointment.

jussmartenuf's picture

Obama has proven a great

Obama has proven a great disappointment to so many of us because of this type of action. It is too bad the Republicans have fielded such a poor lot of candidates and Bernie Sanders did not oppose Obama in a primary.
So it goes, we are lacking in a leader with the statesmanship to do the right thing except on ocassion.

Let's all give a sincere,

Let's all give a sincere, heartfelt "seig heil," to the Executive Branch for all of their support and law changing Nazi, fascist shenanigans. They may oppose the citizen's Constitutional Rights, but at least they "jack" them!

The US military and other

The US military and other "imperial security forces" have been practicing this approach to "human rights" since the end of WW II. Paramilitary forces trained by US "advisers"of one kind or another have killed and tortured people in (among others) El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Honduras, etc. As of today I am personally familiar with such brutal acts by paramilitary in Colombia who are killing friends of mine, christian peace loving people, in San Jose de Apartadó. My sense is that the Irak War was devised in part to train such paramilitary forces, lawless mercenaries, with the purpose of deploying them in the US. I believe Empire knows no nations, including the USA. We, the people of any nation are all serfs of the Transnational Corporate Empire. I realize what I am saying sounds like some crazy Orwellian Social Fiction nightmare, but "we are not in Kansas anymore". I am the 99%. I invite the 1% to wake up and join us.

This is what they utter when

This is what they utter when they pledge to the flag in washington......
I pledge allegiance to wall street and the corporations of America, and to the profit for which they are entitled, one nation under Greed, divided, with liberty and justice for none.

BUT, on the flip

BUT, on the flip side......Now that United States soil is a battlefield in a war zone and battlefield preemption is the rule, United States citizens can in their duty bound defense of our nation and by all means do so detain and elinimate any person or entity we consider to be a threat or an enemy foreign or domestic to the People and the Constitution of the United States of America. Right now the greatest threat and enemy to our nation is congress and the president.

The way this article is

The way this article is written, it makes it appear that Obama reluctantly signed the bill and had previously opposed the detention provisions. Reality is exactly the opposite. The administration opposed the original bill because it did not contain the wording making military detention mandatory. The original wording only allowed detention, but required the administration to go through some extra steps to detain a US citizen or to extend military custody of certain groups of people under what was Sec 1032 of the original bill. The Obama Administration objection was that the original bill did not give the government enough power to imprison American citizens accused (but unproved) of being terrorists or terrorist sympathizers and the administration didn't want to be bothered by having to do paperwork. The C-Span recording of the debate on the bill shows Senator Levin explaining to another Senator that the final wording of Sec 1021 (formerly 1031) was what the Obama Administration requested. So much for the ideal of liberty and justice.


for listening to your readers and backing off from posting Pro-Obama garbage.

Left/Right=different rhetoric, same actions, designed to divide and conquer at the behest of the ruling elite.

Great article.

THIS is a true horror!


Based on Brian Walker's piece

Based on Brian Walker's piece and this one, we are in for some real trouble. I am not a flaming liberal. I do consider myself to be progressive. I voted for Obama in the hope that he would turn this country back to the right path, morally. We are better than the countries that torture without qualm. We are better than the countries that "disappear" people with whom they have disagreements. Now, we are becoming them. This is wrong. What good is the Constitution if the government can disregard it at will. No law, except a constitutional amendment, can alter the meaning of the consittution. When did we have a constitutional referendum that would allow the president or congress to decide that citizens of the United States could be held, indefinitely, without notice, without trial on their day so? The 99% is watching.

Given that the pentagon

Given that the pentagon issued a report in 2003 that concluded global climate change will be the biggest threat to national security, and that MIT scientist are saying we have 5 years to stop run away climate change, the move to control of the masses is not surprising.

Climate change is likely to cause the area between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn to become desert driving the survivors north and south causing massive war over dwindling oil and water, reduced arable land.

The perceived need by the 1% for control of the masses is not a bit surprising.

On September 14, 2001 a

On September 14, 2001 a Presidential state of emergency was declared.

"While the state of emer­gency has a two year lim­i­ta­tion rule under the Na­tional Emer­gen­cies Act, Pres­i­dent Obama re­newed it in 2009 and 2010, and again in Sep­tem­ber of 2011 so it is still in ef­fect today.

From Wikipedia:

At least two con­sti­tu­tional rights are sub­ject to re­vo­ca­tion dur­ing a na­tional state of emer­gency:

1. The right of habeas cor­pus, under Ar­ti­cle 1, Sec­tion 9;

2. The right to a grand jury for mem­bers of the Na­tional Guard when in ac­tual ser­vice, under Fifth Amend­ment.

The suspension of habeas corpus means we no longer have the right to a trial by our peers, no right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty.

So in reality, the authorization given by president Obama to take out an Islamic cleric in Yemen who was a US citizen was legal. All that had to be done was to declare him an enemy combatant.

How long till a protester is a "terrorist" and an "enemy combatant". Not long I think.

The precedent set here is

The precedent set here is dangerous and has the potential for abuse. Imagine if a Tea Party person is elected President and the destruction they cold wreak on those who disagree with them.

I'm not laughing, but if I

I'm not laughing, but if I said what I really think, they might 'disappear' me.

Goldman Sachs and the

Goldman Sachs and the authority to arrest? It reeks of debtor's prison.

Ask not what your country can

Ask not what your country can do for you.....just shut up and lick my boots!

Darkness befalls a once great

Darkness befalls a once great nation. We dishonor those who gave their lives on the beaches of Normany fighting to free the world from the nation we now have become.

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