Virginia’s new law sends mixed messages to state employees, especially law enforcement officials. Imagine a state trooper pulling over a speeder and finding out through an ID check that the FBI has an alert for the driver as a suspected al-Qaeda operative. What should the trooper do if he knows or suspects the driver is a U.S. citizen? Do his duty and detain the suspect, which violates Virginia law? Or simply write the speeding ticket and send the driver on his way, not telling the FBI or the military, consequences be damned?
Although the federal government has no inherent constitutional right to compel state officials to help in combating al-Qaeda, since 9/11 it has funneled billions of dollars to all states that require fulsome cooperation from state law enforcement authorities. Meanwhile, state National Guard forces, when deployed overseas, are subject to federal control. For these reasons, Virginia’s legislation violates the federal law.
America's approach to justice.
Beyond these practical concerns, Virginia’s legislation, especially if followed by more states, sends a powerful message that delegitimizes not just the military detention of captured enemy combatants but also the entire laws-of-war architecture. Legitimacy of government policies matters a great deal in our democracy. Unfortunately, it already was heavily battered, primarily by the left, during the George W. Bush administration.
The tea party members who are pushing for these state actions may not know that the Obama administration has, after some initial equivocation, endorsed the laws-of-war paradigm and has retained most of the Bush administration’s policies. This extremely positive development provides much-needed bipartisanship in this key area of national policy.
The Virginia legislation, and similar legislation in other states, violate the U.S. Constitution. It has nothing to do with states’ rights. It is a dangerous mistake, perpetrated by groups and people who misunderstand detainee law, including the NDAA, or who, since Sept. 11, have viscerally opposed the laws-of-war paradigm. Whatever their motivations, they are wrong, and their efforts should be strongly opposed.