For one Washington State lawmaker, indefinite detention is personal

Mike Maharrey Communications Director, The Tenth Amendment Center
Font Size:

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 When President Gerald Ford finally rescinded EO 9066 in 1976, he said, ‘I call upon the American people to affirm with me this American promise — that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago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.”

Hasegawa said he often runs into the “it could never happen to me” mentality.

“That makes me think of that German priest’s quote about Nazi Germany. What was his name? He said, ‘There was nobody to speak up for me …’”

The quote Hasegawa references is attributed to Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller.

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

With his family’s experience motivating him, Hasegawa decided he needed to step up and speak for any future victims of unjust federal force. On February 1, he filed SB 5511 in the Washington Senate. The bill condemns the sections of the NDAA that allow for indefinite detention without due process as unconstitutional and includes provisions blocking any such attempts in the Evergreen State. It forbids state officials from cooperating with federal indefinite detention efforts and provides criminal penalties for anyone who tries.

Republican Representative Jason Overstreet sponsored similar legislation in 2012 and filed a House companion bill this session. Overstreet reached out to Hasegawa after learning about his family’s internment during a “day of remembrance” in the Washington House last year. Hasegawa said he’s happy that they can work together and form a coalition to protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Republican Matt Shea signed on as a cosponsor to HB 1581. He said he considered it an obligation.

“Indefinite detention means that due process is dead,” Shea said. “State legislators must defend against federal overreach. It is our duty. The oath we take in accordance with Article VI of the U.S. Constitution requires nothing less.”

Washington joins 13 other states considering bills to block NDAA detention within their borders. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a similar bill into law last year and more than 16 local and county governments have passed resolutions condemning detention without due process.

Mike Maharrey serves as the national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He is also the author of Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You may contact Mike at: michael.maharrey@tenthamendmentcenter.com.