Commentary

Only Some of Our Young Are Now Independent Americans

I often worry about today’s young growing up in a country where everybody is liable to be under secret government surveillance, with nearly all of these Americans never having violated any law. How much expectation of individual constitutional liberty can these young citizens have?

But now I am somewhat heartened by the results of a recent (reliable) poll by Quinnipiac University described in a Nov. 18 lead editorial in the New York Post:

“In 2008 and 2012, millennials — voters between ages 18 and 30 — came out in a big way for Barack Obama.”

But now, “something’s changed. The poll has young voters disapproving of the president by a 54 percent to 36 percent margin … Only 43 percent of the under-30s say the president is honest and trustworthy. By contrast, a majority — 51 percent — say he’s not.”

Moreover, “60 percent of young voters disapprove of the way the president’s handling the economy. Fifty-six percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care. Fifty-three percent disapprove of his handling of foreign policy” (“Young voters turn against President Obama,” New York Post, Nov. 18).

But — and it’s a very big “but” — the millennials were not asked if they approved of Obama’s handling of the Constitution. I wonder how many of them, along with our other students, were actually taught American history. Do these young people even know that if some of the states had not pressured the federal government to add the first 10 amendments — the Bill of Rights — they would not have ratified the Constitution?

So I’m still worried about what kind of America there will be as the current and future millennials take over. To get a more specific idea, I would like to see Quinnipiac (or other major polls) ask them what they think about the worst official attack on Americans’ most fundamental freedoms in our nation’s history, which is included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012, signed into law by President Obama late in 2011.

These young Americans would, of course, have to be told by the pollsters precisely what is in Section 1021 of this law, which our Supreme Court has so far shown no inclination to review.

I advise pollsters and any American reading this column to get to the core of Section 1021, as revealed by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Chris Hedges, a former New York Times reporter who is the leading plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the NDAA (Hedges v. Obama).

What follows may well be startling news to you, too: “If Section 1021 stands, it will mean that more than 150 years of case law in which the Supreme Court repeatedly held the military has no jurisdiction over civilians will be abolished.

“It will mean citizens who are charged by the government with ‘substantially (otherwise undefined) supporting’ al-Qaida, the Taliban or the nebulous category of ‘associated forces’ will be lawfully subject to extraordinary rendition.

“It will mean citizens seized by the military (including in America) will languish in military jails indefinitely, or in the language of Section 1021, until ‘the end of hostilities’ — in an age of permanent war, (which could mean) for the rest of their lives” (“The Last Chance to Stop the NDAA,” Hedges, truthdig.com, Sept. 2).

And who knows how long that will be.

Also forcefully opposing the NDAA, especially because of the military detention of U.S. citizens, are: the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Cato Institute (where I am a senior fellow), Reason Magazine and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A federal district court judge had issued an injunction against NDAA, but it was overruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, thereby giving Barack Obama, our present King George III, the power to have his military arrest Americans right here on exceedingly vague grounds.

In another column, Hedges tells us how low Obama will rank among American presidents: “The act (also) authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled ‘Counter-Terrorism,’ for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill … the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until ‘the end of hostilities.’ (Or held here.) It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties …

“The supine and gutless Democratic Party, which would have feigned outrage if George W. Bush had put this into law, appears willing, once again, to grant Obama a pass. But I won’t. What he has done is unforgivable, unconstitutional and exceedingly dangerous …” (“Why I’m Suing Barack Obama,” Hedges, Truth Dig, Jan. 16, 2012).

Hedges reminds the president and Congress of the Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”

Now dig this if you voted for Obama once or twice: “The oddest part of this legislation is that the FBI, the CIA, the director of national intelligence, the Pentagon and the attorney general didn’t support it. (Former) FBI Director Robert Mueller said he feared the bill would actually impede the bureau’s ability to investigate terrorism because it should be harder to win cooperation from suspects held by the military. ‘The possibility looms that we will lose opportunities to obtain cooperation from the persons in the past that we’ve been fairly successful in gaining,’ he told Congress.”

These suspects, including American citizens, can be imprisoned by the military without ever having appeared before a judge. They will be outside our rule of law … that is, what remains of it.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.