Defense Bill Would Allow Military to Indefinitely Detain Americans

The provision would give broad powers to the president and the military to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely

by John Glaser, November 28, 2011

The Senate will be voting on Tuesday on a defense bill that would drastically expand the Defense Department’s ability to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects, shifting that responsibility from traditional domestic law enforcement to the military.

“The Senate is going to vote on whether Congress will give this president—and every future president — the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The power is so broad,” they claim, “that even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself.”

The primary authors of the provision, Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, wrote in the Washington Post that the reactions against the law are overblown. They argued that the provision allows presidents “through a waiver, to hold these al-Qaeda detainees in civilian custody if it determines that would best serve national security.”

But giving political and military leaders the choice of giving full rights to the accused or not is a poor selling point. Senator Mark Udall, who opposes the provision and wrote a response in the Washington Post, said “the provisions would require the military to dedicate a significant number of personnel to capturing and holding terrorism suspects — in some cases indefinitely — even those apprehended on U.S. soil.”

For now, Levin and McCain would appear to be in the minority, and the Obama administration has vowed to veto the bill if it passes. Aiming to appear strong on national security in an election season, they couched their objection in terms of hindering their ability to fight terrorism, as opposed to the provision being an affront to basic human rights.

To contact your Senator to oppose the bill, go to this form at the ACLU.

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