Senate Rejects Amendment Banning Military Detention of US Citizens in War on Terror
The Senate today rejected an amendment that would have limited the U.S. military from indefinitely detaining American citizens – within the United States or abroad – who are suspected of aiding terrorist organizations. The vote was 37-61, falling largely along party lines with Democrats opposing and the GOP in support.
The White House and the president’s top defense, national security and law enforcement staff all opposed the expansion of domestic detention authority by the military, saying it would complicate anti-terror operations.
President Obama has threatened to veto the defense appropriate bill with the detention language. It remains to be seen if he will now do so.
In remarks on the Senate floor before the vote, Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO, explained why the bill’s proposed language was a dramatic new expansion of military police powers that could deprive citizens of constitutional rights such as the right to be tried and convicted in an American court of law.
“The provisions authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens who are suspected of involvement in terrorism, even those captured here in our own country, in the United States… These provisions could well represent a threat to our constitutional liberties,” Udall said. “What is not clear is what we do with someone arrested in his home because of suspected terrorist ties. These detainee provisions would authorize that person’s indefinite detention but it misses a critical point. How do we know that a citizen has committed these crimes unless they are tried and convicted? Do we really want to open the door to domestic military police powers and possibly deny U.S. citizens their due process rights?”
However, supporters of the bill, including Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, who sits on the committee that drafted it, said the Supreme Court already has authorized the military to indefinitely detain citizens within the United States to combat terrorism.
“The Supreme Court has ruled that citizens can be held,” Levin said moments before the vote on the Udall amendment. “We can and must deal with a Al Queda threat… The administration helped to draft almost all of this bill… This amendment would strike provisions that the administration helped to draft.”
Other opponents of the bill’s language to expans the military’s power to detain US citizens included the American Civil Liberties Union, American Bar Association, American Legion and International Red Cross.