First, do no harm
One of the admonitions given to doctors is "first do no harm." This is good counsel for our elected officials as well, and should have been followed before Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act. One of the provisions of the act allows the president of the United States to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely and deny them the right of habeas corpus, if that citizen can be linked to terrorism.
But as one U.S. senator pointed out, that caveat could include giving money to an organization which eventually funnels your money to terrorist organizations. You then could be declared an enemy combatant and sent to Guantanamo Bay.
As Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan put it, the bill "permits the federal government to indefinitely detain American citizens on American soil, without charge or trial at the discretion of the U.S. president."
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul pointed out that the federal government has identified some of the factors that could be used to indicate a person is a terrorist: missing fingers, or having a seven-day food supply.
Some argue that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a joint resolution passed by Congress in 2001, already grants the president power to detain citizens indefinitely.
Are laws such as the Defense Authorization Act good for American citizens? Do they instill trust in their government to know that the president and a majority of the House and Senate believe the president should have power to strip U.S. citizens of their God-given rights? Without due process they could be separated from family, friends and everything they hold dear, all by presidential whim.
From Utah, only Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz voted against the NDAA, which appears to violate at least half of the Bill of Rights. The trend toward government violating citizens' rights is continuing, with news that the government plans to keep private information on citizens for up to five years.
The terrible events of 9/11 did not happen because of a lack of U.S. laws. In fact, many of the individuals who committed these atrocities had already been identified. Law enforcement simply failed to communicate and properly follow up on tips and other information.
We do not want to compound the tragedy of 9/11 by giving citizens a reason to legitimately fear their government. If our enemies hate us because of our freedom, don't we let our enemies win when we surrender our precious liberties?
But the federal government isn't alone in this. The state of Utah has recently enacted many laws which deny citizens their constitutional rights. Among these bills are SB16 (2009), which allowed police to break up individuals who were congregating, and HB150 (2010), which allowed the government to order Internet service providers to turn over user records without a search warrant. Both of these bills violated the Fourth Amendment. Meanwhile, HB140, which would have strengthened our Fourth Amendment rights by ending administrative checkpoints by police, died for lack of a final vote in the Utah Senate.
Our freedom is precious. We should not allow fear to dictate which rights we should protect and which we should ignore, for they are not some policy that can change at the whim of a legislative body.
The first role of government is to protect these rights. That will happen only as more legislators take upon themselves the creed of "first do no harm."
Don Guymon is a member of the Utah Republican State Central Committee and chairman of Utah Grass Roots (utahgrassroots.org), which promotes limited government, state and federal constitutions, a free market economy, separation of powers, and family.