Six hundred ninety-three: That’s how many brave, selfless National Guardsmen and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 to ensure others a chance to enjoy freedom.
Over the past few years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to spend time with our veterans, troops and military families. With every visit, I come away inspired.
This past August, I attended the funeral of Brian Bill — a Stamford, Conn., native and Navy SEAL who perished along with 29 other American service members and eight Afghans when their Chinook helicopter was shot down during a rescue mission in eastern Afghanistan.
It was less than a year ago when our community of Colville, Wash., came together to bury a 28-year-old boy who lost his life in the name of American freedom. As a medic with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group in Operation Enduring Freedom, Staff Sgt. Wyatt A. Goldsmith was treating an Afghan commando when insurgents attacked his unit with a grenade. He lost his life in an effort to save someone else’s. He was a Green Beret soldier, serving his third overseas deployment, and was the recipient of three Purple Hearts. He was a devoted teammate, a loyal brother and the son of a mom and dad who got the phone call they hoped they never would.
American children at a very young age are taught to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Most Americans remember that exciting day in kindergarten when it was “your turn” to lead the class in our beloved pledge. I vividly remember raising our precious red, white and blue flag as high as I could in the air and proudly professing “I pledge allegiance” while the remainder of the class joined in unison. Such patriotic times remain embedded in our minds. But have you ever taken time to think about who exactly paid the price for your freedom?
One of the most controversial floor fights today will be over homeland missile defense. The House Armed Services Committee provided $100 million for an Environmental Impact Study for a military site on the East Coast to defend against ballistic missiles. It also added $357 million more to the president's budget request for the only system currently deployed to defend the homeland from long-range missiles, the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. The Rules Committee has made in order an amendment by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) to eliminate $403 million from GMD. The East Coast site is likely to be sucked into the debate when Members argue the merits of her amendment.
The East Coast site and increased funding for GMD meet common objections from opponents.
Few issues unite Democrats and Republicans, much less bring people together from across the entire political spectrum. But provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), authorizing military detention without due process, did just that.
This week, Congress has the opportunity to join a rare bipartisan chorus rising across the country. An amendment to the NDAA, sponsored by Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.), has galvanized everyone from Occupiers to Tea Partiers, united by the specter of domestic military detention without trial.
In the last two months, state legislatures in Virginia and Arizona passed, with broad bipartisan support, bills forbidding state cooperation with any attempts at federally sanctioned kidnapping under the NDAA. A dozen city and county councils in eight states from coast-to-coast -- led by Democrats, Republicans and even Green Party members -- have passed similar resolutions.
Why the fuss?
It’s become increasingly difficult over the years for Democrats and Republicans in Congress to get together and do something productive. Factor in an election year, and it’s down-right impossible.
Or is it?
Earlier this week, Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, announced that he will be pushing for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would ban indefinite detention within the United States and reverse a dangerous provision of law that could force the transfer of some terrorism suspects into military custody.
Representative Smith, a Democrat, will be joined by Representative Justin Amash, among other Republicans, in what promises to be one of 2012’s few truly bi-partisan initiatives. What’s more – and this you’re not going to believe – it’s an initiative that makes a whole lot of policy sense.
Let’s take a step back to see how we got here.
Last year, in pushing through the defense authorization bill, Congress enacted a set of provisions on detainee policy that were a fundamental affront to the rule of law and our national security. Two provisions in particular stood out.
First, Congress codified the authority of the military to pick up and indefinitely detain without charge or trial individuals suspected of terrorism. No probable cause. No jury trial. No guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Although the government had been exercising this authority for a decade in the case of detainees held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, some proponents of the new NDAA detainee provisions, such as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), warned of new threats among us, here at home. To these members of Congress, America is now the battlefield, and anyone determined to have substantially supported terrorism could be subject to lifetime imprisonment without ever facing charges.
Today the House Armed Services Committee will debate the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), possibly overturning 25 years of safety standards at our nation’s weapons facilities. During this debate members of this committee will have a choice – they can protect communities around nuclear sites and the employees who work there or they can go on record as turning their back on those safety standards.
There are several sections of the NDAA that relate directly to nuclear safety and pose a threat to security. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this bill is the fact that it would overturn the “adequate protection standard” that has guided nuclear safety oversight for over two decades. The adequate protection standard, which through legal precedent has been defined as not allowing cost considerations to impact safety recommendations, would be muddled by a new “low as reasonably practicable” standard, an imprecise measure undefined by statute and almost certain to favor cost-cutting measures over public safety.
The United States experienced an inspiring moment earlier this month, when a 747 carried the space shuttle Discovery to its new home at the Smithsonian. I was fortunate to be in Washington that day; as I looked up at the sky, I was moved to feel pride in the intelligence, the vision and the scientific knowledge of this great country that made the space shuttle possible.
I keep thinking about that day as I consider Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, former chief of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center Jose Rodriguez’s book that praises the benefits of the torture he helped inflict on 9-11 detainees. It’s difficult to rationalize how the visionary work of something like our space program can come from the same country as the cowardly and inhumane work of our detainee interrogation program. This country can do such good, but we can also make terrible mistakes, and when we do, we must admit them, not justify them.