Board Member Message by: Lynn Longfellow
A Legacy and Call for Action
I recently had the honor and privilege to chair the Congressional Gold Medal Tribute Luncheon that was held on February 26, 2012 to recognize the amazing Nisei veterans of WWII and the honorees of the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service. The award and tribute which were so long overdue, not only honored their patriotism, heroic service and sacrifice, but recognized that this was given despite the fact that many of them along with their families had their Constitutional rights and civil liberties denied as 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during the war.
It was heartwarming to have the tremendous support and outpouring of appreciation through a sellout event and an inspired community. So many people contacted us wanting to be involved and wanting to know how they could help, and after, how they were moved and so proud of the legacy that this amazing generation has left. Now, a recent trip to Washington D.C. for the JACL/OCA Leadership Summit has left me with a call out to all who wish to honor and protect this legacy and to protect the Constitutional rights of all U.S. citizens.
The lobbying effort this year at the Leadership Summit was focused on legislation for the repeal of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA is a federal law that authorizes spending for the United States military and for the past forty-nine years, Congress passes what is basically the Department of Defense’s (DOD) budget which includes defense policy initiatives or measures that extend beyond the budget. Some of these can be purely administrative matters, but sometimes they can include controversial directives that are “snuck” into the bill. Congress historically has always passed the NDAA as it holds the money that keeps the military running and the country safe. However the newest version referred to as “NDAA FY 2012” which was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President at the end of 2011 contains a very disturbing provision.
Part of Section 1021 reads that a person may be “(detained) under law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities”, meaning that the President can order anyone, even an American citizen, to be imprisoned indefinitely without the right to a judicial trial. Hauntingly familiar, this “indefinite detention” bill violates the Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens who are entitled to a “speedy and public trial” and due process when charged with a crime. This puts Americans at risk to be detained without grounds.
Upon signing the NDAA into law, President Obama accompanied it with a “signing statement” that promised his administration would not authorize or enforce, the indefinite military detention of American citizens. This does not guarantee that future presidents will do the same–the provision is still legal and written into federal law and opens the door for history to repeat itself.
This year marked the 70th Anniversary of the issue of Executive Order 9066. At our JACL Day of Remembrance which was held on February 19th we honored former internees and listened to their stories and experiences. You don’t have to look hard today to see the prejudice, stereotyping and racial profiling that echoes this dark chapter in American history–just ask Muslim Americans post-9/11.
Across the street from the Capitol where this legislation is passed stands a wall at the Japanese American Memorial with the following inscription quoting President Harry S. Truman:
For anyone whose legacy includes the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII and for those who want to assure that the Constitutional right to due process is protected, take a stand. For all of you who want to know how you can help honor the Japanese American veterans and to honor and/or carry on their legacy, continue their fight. Speak out for the repeal of Section 1021 of the NDAA. Don’t allow the opportunity for indefinite detention for any U.S. citizen to happen again.
Proudly, both Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and 4 out of 5 of Oregon’s members of Congress (Representatives Kurt Schrader, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and former Representative David Wu) voted against the passage of the NDAA. You can contact members of Congress, research and track the activities in the U.S. Congress including the status of U.S. Federal legislation and find voting records for the Senate and the House etc. at websites like House.gov, Senate.gov, Govtrack.us or opencongress.org.
Without deed and action, words are just that… words on a page, words on a wall, words in a document. Stand with JACL in opposition of indefinite detention without any due process–stand up and be heard. Protect our Constitutional rights. Contact your Congress person… thank them if they voted against the original legislation and encourage them to continue the fight against indefinite detention by supporting current legislation to have it repealed. Tell your personal story and/or the legacy of your family’s story if you have one- -the power of constituents is great only if it is realized.