CC ISSUE: MAR 2012 Last updated: Mar 7, 2012
Know Your Rights
NDAA denies basic rights to Americans
“Throughout the history of this country, the rights to due process, to legal representation, to a fair trial – have all been the last defenses available to those most vulnerable and discriminated among us… When the light of justice, of just laws and institutions is dimmed, then civility is abandoned and darkness prevails.”
My colleague Asaf Bar-Tura, associate director of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, said these words at a rally in opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I quote his words because they apply, not only as a warning of the indefinite detention clauses contained within the NDAA, but as a reminder of certain promises made to each and every one of us.
When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, the Founding Fathers sought to only amend the existing Articles of Confederation, which, in their current state, were too weak to regulate conflict that arose between the states. Some of the Founding Fathers, however, sought to create a new government rather than fix the existing one, cementing the union of 13 disparate colonies. As they worked to design a constitution, many realized that there needed to be a set of laws in place to protect the liberties they were denied under British rule. The Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, were written and ratified to ensure personal freedoms and individual rights of the American people.
What is often overlooked is that, originally, the Bill of Rights provided legal protection only for land-owning white males, a very specific group to which all of the Founding Fathers belonged. What is not forgotten, however, is that women and minorities – specifically African Americans – were purposefully excluded from the protections that the Bill of Rights provided. Only after the early American traditions were challenged did society question its discriminatory actions. Through the power of collective protests and a strong desire for change, Congress passed further amendments to the Constitution. Only through these and numerous Supreme Court cases did the Bill of Rights extend the same rights to all citizens.
As a former law clerk with the civil rights department at CAIR-Chicago, I have talked to individual after individual who was denied the right to freely practice religion as promised by the First Amendment. Most do not seek monetary compensation, solely the inherent rights guaranteed to them as Americans. These individuals want to be able to wear their hijabs to work, attend Friday prayers at the mosque and travel without fear, yet are unable to do so. They turn to other rights – due process, legal representation and a fair trail – as promised through other constitutional amendments to find recourse for the denial of their civil liberties.
With the passage, and subsequent signing into law, of the NDAA, we must question whether the Bill of Rights does continue to hold true and extend equal rights to all U.S. citizens. The indefinite detention without due process clause, contained within the NDAA, denies the most basic defenses that Americans have to fight oppression and injustice. While government action may show otherwise, we must hold true and believe that the light of justice has not yet been extinguished. We must continue to believe that the collective voice of those discriminated against, those to whom justice is denied, will be heard and that the promises made to us, through the vision of the Founding Fathers, are upheld.