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Let sleeping laws lie
by Nathan Orme
Jun 03, 2012 | 1055 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This week I watched a documentary on Timothy McVeigh, the “American terrorist” who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. I was 19 years old at the time, plenty old enough to remember the incident and McVeigh’s subsequent trial and execution, but at that age I was a bit too preoccupied (college, fun, girls) to make time to dedicate the details to memory.

So, watching this film was pretty interesting and informative. It talked about McVeigh’s background in the military, his experiences with war in the Middle East and the anger at the government that fueled his motivation for the attack. It seems part of his rationale for killing all those people in the Alfred R. Murrah building was that the U.S. government does far worse in its acts of military aggression, so by comparison his body count was insignificant. His final straw was seeing an act of government aggression on home soil in the infamous Waco, Texas, onslaught at the Branch Davidian compound.

After learning about McVeigh’s mindset, I better understood why he did what he did. I do not condone it in any way, but I can at least see the dots he connected. While I do not agree with his course of action, I agree with his anger over the perceived hypocrisy on the part of the government.

To bring my point into the present day, my friend and cartoonist Erik Holland has kept me in the loop regarding the subject of his recent ire: the National Defense Authorization Act. I wrote about it (and he drew about it) a few months ago, when I said it is unfortunate that the lawmaking process has turned into such an illicit horse-trading affair. The act included a provision that Obama publicly spoke against — detainment of Americans who might maybe possibly be suspected of being terrorists — yet he signed the bill into law anyway. In the most recent development, a federal judge struck down that part of the law saying it is questionable on free speech and due process grounds.

She is, of course, absolutely correct. The very notion of holding any person on suspicion indefinitely without a proper presentation of evidence or charges is contrary to our Constitution. But as I said in my prior column, the very notion of this happening seems so remote, so unlikely that I had a difficult time supporting my friend’s concern about this law. I figured it was one of those little provisions that was simply worded poorly or was misinterpreted by some folks looking for reasons to be paranoid. There’s no way our government would ever really lock someone up and throw away the key simply for a reason that hadn’t been tested in court.

But then I would never have thought something like the Waco siege would happen: tanks smashing through walls and many civilians killed in a situation that seemed to have been provoked by the government’s actions against a group that was suspicious but probably didn’t need to be obliterated. Through the course of their actions, just “doing their job,” many government agents made mistakes at Waco. My parallel is this: By eliminating the detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, we give the government one less pathway by which to make a mistake and step all over people’s rights. Incidents such as Waco rarely happen, but all it takes is once to make someone mad enough to build a bomb.

I hope the president does not tell his lawyers to appeal this ruling and let the detention provision just fade away, because the memory of a tragedy doesn’t fade so easily.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to drive by the federal building in Reno — just in case.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at
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