Reached by phone, Seattle congressman Jim McDermott fumed when he spoke about the new National Defense Authorization Act. Language included in the law, known as NDAA, codifies the practice of indefinite military detention without trial, further opening the door to indefinite detention of US citizens (in the name of fighting terrorists).
It passed the US House of Representatives on December 14 by a vote of 283 to 136, with McDermott casting the only "no" vote in all of Washington State's congressional delegation. Even both of our US senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, voted "yes" the next day, when the US Senate passed it by a vote of 86 to 13.
NDAA's passage has McDermott at a new level of agitation.
"If you give somebody the power, but don't give anybody the chance to review it, you have simply done away with law," McDermott says. He calls the worrisome provisions that allow for indefinite detention without trial "un-American, unconstitutional, and unnecessary."
About a thousand Seattle constituents contacted him in the lead-up to the House vote, urging him to vote against the measure. But now that NDAA has passed—and now that President Obama has gone back on a previous veto threat and promised to sign it into law—McDermott is uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
"We're stuck with this," he lamented.
So what should people do?
"You know, sometimes I don't have an answer," McDermott said. "It is very, very, very troublesome to me that I have to say that to you, but I really don't know what we can do at this point. I mean, it has been put into law."
Senator Cantwell backed two failed amendments aimed at modifying the indefinite detention provisions but ultimately voted for NDAA. Her spokesperson would not explain her thinking to The Stranger, saying only: "Senator Cantwell supports a strong national defense that protects Americans from terrorism while safeguarding the civil liberties that are vital to our freedom."
"You know, we're all elected and we do what we think is best for the people that we represent," McDermott said. "I can't speak for anybody else. But it's hard for me to understand how people would not see this... Giving the president the right to detain people indefinitely without review erodes what we as Americans say we are."