For one Washington State lawmaker, indefinite detention is personal

For most Americans, the debate over the indefinite detention provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act plays out primarily as an academic exercise. The average Joe walking down Main Street U.S.A. simply doesn’t worry about armed government thugs snatching him up, throwing him in the back of a van and hauling him off to some camp somewhere.

But one Washington State senator plunged into the NDAA fray with much more than academic, political or rhetorical interest. For Senator Bob Hasegawa, indefinite detention without due process is personal.

His family lived it.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. It authorized the secretary of war and the U.S. Army to create military zones “from which any or all persons may be excluded.” As a result, Hasegawa’s parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, along with their entire community, spent three years living in barrack shacks behind barbed wire and armed guards at Minidoka Internment Camp in southern Idaho, not knowing if or when they would get out.

Their crime?

Japanese ancestry.

“While they were constructing the camp, my family lived in horse stalls in the stables at the Puyallup Fairgrounds,” he said. “They were all U.S. citizens.”

The Seattle Democrat was the first member of his family born after internment. The injustice his family endured needs no explanation, but he said the sad legacy of that experience lingers on even today.

“They never talked about it at all,” he said. “It was sort of like a community embarrassment, and they internalized it.”

That shame led to a suppression of Hasegawa’s culture and heritage. His parents rarely spoke Japanese after that. He said they didn’t want the kids to have an accent. They gave their children American-sounding names — like Bob.

“They didn’t want anything to be held against us, be it race or ethnicity. They wanted to shield us from that.”

Many Americans write off the danger of indefinite detention powers, arguing they “only apply to terrorists.” Hasegawa bristles at such rhetoric.

“It makes me angry — really angry,” he said with barely contained emotion. “So many presidents gave lip service. When President Gerald Ford finally rescinded EO 9066 in 1976, he said, ‘I call upon the American people to affirm with me this American promise — that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago experience forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American, and resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated.’ Yet, it seems we have to relive these lessons.”