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ACLU Blog of Rights

Tell Congress to End 'Indefinite Detention' in the United States

Only Hours Left! Tell Congress to Pass the Smith-Amash Amendment to the NDAA

Twenty-four hours might not seem like much time. But we are hoping it will be just enough time for all Americans to convince our members of Congress that no president should have the authority to order the military to detain civilians without charge or trial in the United States, or put anyone in our country on trial in front of military commissions.

Using indefinite military detention of civilians here at home in the United States is unconstitutional and illegal and we do not believe it is permitted by last year's National Defense Authorization Act — but incredibly, some top members of Congress seem to think it is perfectly ok and allowed by the NDAA. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has kept himself busy in the Senate arguing that there is a war going on in your backyard and using the military to lock people up without charge or trial is a good idea. He has been more recently joined by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who believes in indefinite military detention without charge or trial here at home.

But now is your chance to fight back. No one should be picked up far from a battlefield and locked away without charge or trial by the military, and certainly not here in the United States itself.

Some key members of the House of Representatives are putting party differences aside and are trying to make clear that last year's law doesn't permit indefinite military detention within the United States. They can't fix the problem for the whole world right now, but they are committed to making clear that the United States is off-limits to indefinite military detention. They also want to make clear that military commissions cannot be used for civilians in the United States.

On Thursday afternoon or Friday, a bipartisan group of congressmen will offer the Smith-Amash amendment to this year's NDAA. They range from Tea Party-endorsed Republicans to senior Democrats, including Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Paul Garamendi (D-Calif.), John Duncan (R-Tenn.), and many others from both parties. And a broad range of groups, from the ACLU to the Gun Owners of America to the United Methodist Church have endorsed it.

By working across party lines, the Smith-Amash amendment could pass the House of Representatives this week. But supporters of indefinite military detention are playing lots of tricks to try to defeat it. They even stuck a so-called habeas protection amendment into the NDAA, even though the habeas provision does absolutely nothing. They are so hell-bent on putting people into indefinite military detention without charge or trial that they will try to deceive even their own constituents.

But don't be fooled. You can use the next 24 hours to push the Smith-Amash amendment across the finish line to a winning vote.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress realized that the only way to fight back against indefinite military detention would be to work together on the Smith-Amash amendment. But the only way this amendment will actually pass this week is if everyone, regardless of party, emails or calls their member of Congress, and says it is time to start fixing the NDAA. It is time to pass the Smith-Amash amendment and make clear that civilians in the United States can only be imprisoned after charge and trial in our civilian courts, and not for anyone who the government decides should be locked away by the military without even being charged. Let's make the most of these 24 hours.

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Chris Anders

Chris Anders is Senior Legislative Counsel in the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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