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Public Statements

Bill of Rights

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McDERMOTT. Madam Speaker, today we celebrate an action that took place 220 years ago when we passed the Bill of Rights. But I rise today to express my dismay at the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act yesterday. Not only did this bill curb our ability to keep America safe, it made a mockery of our constitutionally protected rights.

But there is a larger point about the state of this country which is worth noting. Over the past several months, this body has wasted precious time writing a defense authorization bill with so many unsavory provisions the President threatened to veto it.

National security officials from all political spectrums condemned it as dangerous and unnecessary. In the end, the bill was watered down in response to many of the serious concerns about the bill, though it did not go nearly as far as it should. The final bill still contains restrictions on transfer of Guantanamo detainees and grants the President the power to indefinitely detain without trial American citizens in military custody. It shows just how far along the slippery slope our country has moved since 9/11 in authorizing sweeping powers to the President at the expense of our civil liberties.

Let's be clear. The over-militarization of our counterterrorism efforts goes against American values and civil liberties, though some people continue to justify it through fearmongering. We saw this after the horrific events of 9/11 when President Bush signed into law the Patriot Act that dramatically expanded law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, email, and financial records without a court order in the name of intelligence gathering.

One section of the Patriot Act even allows the FBI to review library

records, to look at which books you're reading.
In short, what we've done over the past decade is embrace national secrecy over national security. And the NDA bill took the Patriot Act to a whole new radical level. What the advocates of this bill don't seem to realize is that the American public is already paying a price in the name of keeping our Nation safe.

In September the Center for Investigative Reporting and NPR conducted a joint investigation into private security at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. They found that the mall security personnel stopped an average of 1,200 people a year. Nearly two-thirds of those people belong to racial and ethnic minorities. Personal information from the suspicious activity reports from the mall were sent to the FBI. So they've got an FBI file. Some of these people were reported for looking at the security guard in a ``suspicious'' way.

An Army veteran was questioned for nearly 2 hours about a video he made inside the mall. One man left his cell phone on a table in the food court, and an FBI agent showed up at his family's home asking if they knew anyone who might want to hurt the United States.

These intrusions create a chilling effect that causes law-abiding Americans to think twice about exercising their basic constitutional rights to speech and assembly.

James Madison, as you heard, wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and he once said, ``The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become instruments of tyranny at home.''

That could not ring truer than yesterday. This is a sad day for our liberty and freedom when we give to the President--we may like the President, we may think he's a great man--but to give that office the power to hold Americans without trial in military custody indefinitely is eroding our right to a free trial and an ability to confront our accuser. Those things that are in that Bill of Rights are being taken away from all of us.

Now, we think it won't happen to me. Be careful. That's what people thought in a lot of other places in the world. And suddenly, as Martin Niemoller said in the German prison camps, ``And then they came for me, and there was no one to stand up.''


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