Northampton City Council says no way to the NDAA

Northampton  became the first city in Massachusetts to pass a resolution last Thursday night, objecting to the ‘National Defense Authorization Act’ of 2012 [NDAA].

At its Feb 16 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of the nonbinding resolution calling on Congress to repeal controversial portions of the law, and urging  city departments to not comply with federal or state requests that could lead to the indefinite detention of individuals suspected of terrorism.

The Council, said copies of the resolution will  be sent to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees,  Intelligence Committees, U.S Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA 02), Senators Brown and Kerry, the U.S Attorney General, and the President.

“I think it’s important this community says ‘this is wrong’,” said Bill Newman, President of the American Civil Liberties Union of Western Mass,  one of many in attendance to speaking out in favor of the resolutions’ passage.

Under Sections of the NDAA, a $262 billion Military and Defense Department funding bill signed by President Obama in Dec,  U.S Armed Forces can be used at the direction of the President, to indefinitely detain without trial  anyone including U.S citizens, that the government suspects of ‘substantially’ supporting’  terrorist organizations or taking part in ‘belligerent acts’ against the United States.

Human rights advocates and civil libertarians have decried the indefinite detention powers, saying they deprive individuals of the right of due process guaranteed under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution, and could lead to the U.S Military being used in counter terrorism operations on American soil.

“The key word here is accused,” said Emily Odgers, an intern with the American Friends Services Committee [AFSC], one of the local civil liberties groups favoring passage.  “Not tried, not convicted, and not even charged. [That] simply any person can be locked up indefinitely because the federal government thinks they are doing something is wrong.”

Initially, President Obama threatened to veto the bill if it contained the amendments relating to detention policy. In late Dec however, he signed a version with more watered down language.

The White House later released a Presidential signing statement, pledging the new measures will not be enforced in a way that violates the civil rights of U.S citizens. Critics though, say that doesn’t prevent abuses from occurring under future administrations.

Northampton has made a name for itself weighing in on such issues. In 2002, the City Council passed a similar resolution against the U.S.A Patriot Act, one of the first of over 400 cities and counties to do so.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, a libertarian think tank calling for the nullification of federal laws that they say are unconstitutional infringements on states; six municipalities have passed similar resolutions. In seven states one or both legislative houses have introduced bills to condemn or nullify the law, including  in Virginia where the state’s House of Delegates approved it buy 96-4.

Given the nonbinding nature of the resolutions, they are little more than  symbolic statements of conscience by a community. But backers say that is a first step in the larger process.

“Progress doesn’t happen when some man behind a desk says it should happen,” said Emily Odgers. “Progress occurs when people rise up and create an environment where it must happen.”

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