Indefinite Detention on Trial: Bill Proposed to Amend NDAA

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Common Dreams

Indefinite Detention on Trial: Bill Proposed to Amend NDAA

New bill would protect those on American soil but Guantanamo remains untouched

Common Dreams staff

Two lawmakers have introduced legislation today aimed at stripping the executive branch of the right to indefinitely detain terror suspects captured in the US.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), aims to subject both US citizen and non-citizen terror suspects to US civilian courts rather than military control.

The bill, however, does not apply to people detained overseas, including those who are now held at Guantanamo. For those, indefinite detention would remain a reality.

Associated Press reports:

In a plea for protecting Americans' constitutional rights, two Democrats pushed ahead Thursday with legislation to ensure access to U.S. courts for terrorist suspects captured on U.S. soil.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado introduced legislation that would repeal provisions of the defense bill that President Barack Obama signed into law Dec. 31 that would deny suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders, the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention. It also would reverse the mandatory military custody for foreign terrorist suspects linked to al-Qaida or its affiliates and involved in plotting or attacking the United States.

"While some claim we should shy away using a court system that has been a model for the world for more than 200 years, we believe that we should embrace it," the lawmakers said in a statement. "We should not fear our Constitution. We should embrace it." [...]

Smith, the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said they decided to reopen the divisive issue to provide some clarity and "reassert the primacy of our civil justice system." He pointed out that U.S. courts have resolved more than 400 cases involving terrorist suspects, including the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He was sentenced last month to life in prison after admitting he attempted to blow up an international flight with a bomb in his underwear as the plane approached Detroit on Christmas 2009.

Udall, a member of the Senate committees on armed services and intelligence, said that "even in our darkest hours, we should ensure that our Constitution prevails."

The Hill reports:

One administration official said it did not look like the Senate in particular had the stomach for dealing with the measure in an election year.

The legislation comes in response to a public outcry last year from civil-liberties advocates as well as libertarians after Republican senators pushed for mandatory military detention of terror suspects in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Smith and Udall said that the federal court system has prosecuted more than 400 terrorists, and federal law enforcement has proven it can successfully handle the threat of terrorism. [...]

There was a wide divide in Congress last year over whether the defense authorization bill allowed for indefinite detention of U.S. citizens [...]

Obama [issued] a signing statement indicating he would largely ignore the military detention provisions.

But Udall said that even if Obama indicated he won’t detain U.S. citizens, the executive branch should not have the ability to wield that power.

“That is the interpretation of just this president,” Udall said. “That policy won’t tie the hands of future administrations.” [...]

It’s also unclear if the Obama administration would be supportive of [this bill proposed today]. The administration last year raised its biggest concerns over the law tying the hands of federal law enforcement to prosecute terror cases, though it also said U.S. citizens should not be detained indefinitely. Smith said the lawmakers have been in communication with the administration, but it has not yet taken a position.

Huffington Post adds:

The legislators hope to add their measure as an amendment to next year's defense authorization bill, which is likely to be a difficult task. One administration official said it did not look like the Senate in particular had the stomach for dealing with the measure in an election year.

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