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McCain and Lieberman's "Enemy Belligerent" Act Could Set U.S. on Path to Military Dictatorship

Glenn Greenwald calls the bill "probably the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill introduced in the Senate in the last several decades."

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What overshadows all of these differences is, however, a key similarity with the Bush-era definition. Just as, in the Guantanamo habeas litigation, the Obama administration has adopted the Bush-era position of claiming that persons who provide support to hostilities can be treated just like persons who engaged in hostilities, the new law's "unprivileged enemy belligerent" definition takes the same tack."

In other words, it is as expansive a definition of "terrorism" as possible.

In Obama's defense bill, the word "alien" preceded the term "unprivileged belligerents," in defining who can be held before a military commission. For McCain and Lieberman's purposes, omitting the word "alien" apparently means the label can apply to U.S. citizens, while, politically, the word "unpriviliged" provides a useful connotation: terror suspects will not be coddled like common criminals!

This now-familiar line is the one Senators McCain and Lieberman have taken in pushing their legislation. "These are not common criminals. They are war criminals,” Lieberman told reporters at his press conference with McCain. The bill now has eight Republican co-sponsors: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (GA), Sen. James Inhofe (OK), Sen. George LeMieux (FL), Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL), Sen. John Thune (SD), Sen. David Vitter (LA), Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and the newly-elected Sen. Scott Brown (MA).

In case there was any doubt that terror suspects will have no rights under this law, the Right's cynical attack on Miranda rights has been conveniently inscribed into the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010:

A individual who is suspected of being an unprivileged enemy belligerent shall not, during interrogation under this subsection, be provided the statement required by Miranda v. Arizona … or otherwise be informed of any rights that the individual may or may not have to counsel or to remain silent consistent with Miranda v. Arizona.

But what is perhaps most dangerous is the tremendous amount of power it gives to a U.S. president to determine who is and who is not a terrorist. Under the bill, the president would establish a 'high-value detainee interrogation group," comprised of Executive Branch experts "in matters relating to national security, terrorism, intelligence, interrogation, or law enforcement as the President considers appropriate." This group would be in charge of making a "preliminary determination whether or not the detainee is an unprivileged enemy belligerent … based on the result of its interrogation of the individual and on all intelligence information available to the interrogation group." Its findings would go to the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General, who would "jointly submit to the President and to the appropriate committees of Congress a final determination whether or not the detainee is an unprivileged enemy belligerent."

"In the event of a disagreement between the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General, the President shall make the final determination."

Also, all of this has to happen no more than 48 hours after the detainee is brought into military custody.

Where's the Controversy?

The Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act has yet to go anywhere -- it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which might account for the lack of discussion about it. But, especially coming from two politicians as influential as McCain and Lieberman -- "Serious Centrists" as Greenwald calls them, regularly "feted on Sunday shows" -- such a radical stab at authoritarian rule must be swiftly and loudly condemned.

"Why is the national security community treating the ' Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010,' introduced by Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman ... as a standard proposal, as a simple response to the administration's choices in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing attempt?" asked The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder this month, "A close reading of the bill suggests it would allow the U.S. military to detain U.S. citizens without trial indefinitely in the U.S. based on suspected activity."