Watch out terrorists and suspected terrorists, the United States is just one signature away from passing a bill that would allow the US Government to detain you indefinitely. The $662 billion National Defense Authorization Act has just passed through the senate and is now awaiting President Obama’s signature.
Obama initially said that he would veto the bill but last night the White House had a change of heart. PhillyBurbs reports that the president withdrew his veto threat after congress made last-minute changes to bill that “no longer challenge the president’s ability to prosecute the war on terror.”
The senate voted 86-13 for the National Defense Authorization Act, which will authorize money for military personnel, weapons systems, the war in Afghanistan, and national security programs in the Energy Department. The House voted to pass the measure last night.
The bill has caused controversy due to a provision that would give the government the authority to indefinitely detain terrorist suspects, even if they are US citizens, without trial.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and a bipartisan group of congressional leaders wrote:
“As we learn more about the Senate’s detention provisions, we are increasingly concerned with their breadth and their potential to authorize the indefinite detention of American citizens without charge or trial. [W]e ask that you insist the detention provisions be stripped from the bill or modified to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.”
Bill sponsor and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that the defense bill does not take away an American citizens right to trial, because according to Levin, that right was already taken away in a case called Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.
“Those who say that we have written into law a new authority to detain American citizens until the end of hostilities are wrong… I believe that if an American citizen joins a foreign army or a hostile force like al-Qaida that has declared war and organized a war against us and attacks us, that that person can be captured and detained as an enemy combatant under the law of war.”
Co-sponsor Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, added:
“The language in this bill will not affect any Americans engaging in the pursuits of their constitutional rights.”
But not everyone agrees with McCain. The ACLU, for one, says that the wording of the bill has lead to some confusion about what powers it will grant to the US government, but warns that the provision to indefinitely detain American citizens is clearly part of NDAA. The ACLU tries to clarify the meaning of the bill by saying:
“Don’t be confused by anyone claiming that the indefinite detention legislation does not apply to American citizens. It does. There is an exemption for American citizens from the mandatory detention requirement (section 1032 of the bill), but no exemption for American citizens from the authorization to use the military to indefinitely detain people without charge or trial (section 1031 of the bill). So, the result is that, under the bill, the military has the power to indefinitely imprison American citizens, but it does not have to use its power unless ordered to do so.”
The Huffington Post notes that the senate has passed the National Defense Authorization Act on the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority, but the 13 senators opposed to the bill (Dick Durbin, Ben Cardin, Al Franken, Tom Karkin, Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Bernie Sanders, Jim Risch, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Jim DeMint, Mike Crapo and Tom Coburn) say that the bill tears at the fabric of the Bill of Rights.
Senator Mark Kirk said:
“We as Americans have a right to a speedy trial, not indefinite detention. We as Americans have a right to a jury of our peers, which I would argue is … not enlisted or military personnel sitting in a jury. You cannot search our businesses or place of business or our homes without probable cause under the Bill of Rights.”
Dick Durbin said that he was perplexed as to why the United States had to fix an anti-terrorism system that was already working. Durbin said:
“Since 9/11 our counterterrorism professionals have prevented another attack on the United States, and more than 400 terrorists have successfully been prosecuted and convicted — prosecuted and convicted — in federal court. Why do we want to change this system when it’s working so well to keep America safe? The fact that these detainee provisions have caused so many disagreements and such heated debate demonstrates the danger of enacting them into law.”
The bill will now head to President Obama who is expected to sign it immediately. Obama threatened to veto the bill, but once congress added provisions that gave the president the power to decide which suspects stay in military custody, he withdrew his threat.
Tom Parker, policy director of Amnesty International USA, said:
“By withdrawing his threat to veto the NDAA, President Obama has abandoned yet another principled position with little or nothing to show for it. Amnesty International is appalled — but regrettably not surprised.”
Are you worried about the National Defense Authorization Act? Does congress need more power to fight terrorism? Should President Obama sign the bill?