Due process, detention and defense

Passage of the NDAA didn’t happen overnight, and we were proud to be among the bipartisan leaders in Congress that successfully stripped language from the NDAA that would have given the president – and all future presidents – the ability to effectively declare war on anyone, anywhere. Our coalition in defense of civil liberties was successful in this crucial battle, but our work is not yet done.
 

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In particular, we are especially concerned with Section 1021 of the NDAA which includes unnecessarily ambiguous language regarding our detainment policy. We have spoken with people across the political spectrum, and there is broad bipartisan consensus that the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens is unacceptable and inconsistent with the values most Americans hold dear. That is why we have taken the lead in the House of Representatives, working with Senator Dianne Feinstein in the Senate, in introducing the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011 (H.R. 3702 and S. 2003). This bill explicitly affirms that any American or legal permanent resident must be charged or tried and cannot be indefinitely detained. A clear statement from Congress was necessary in light of the uncertainty surrounding our detainee policy, not only in the NDAA, but to clarify that this is Congress’s view on detainee policy going forward. The importance of protecting our due process rights goes beyond one bill or one session of Congress.
 
The legal community is split on how to interpret Section 1021, but enough legal scholars worry that it could allow for the indefinite military detention of American citizens that a clarifying law is necessary. Congress did not intend to allow citizens to be indefinitely detained, and it is appropriate to pass a law that explicitly protects our due process rights and clearly defines our detainee policy. We now have more than 50 co-sponsors, including the ranking members of the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. Our friend, Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican from North Carolina, has also cosponsored this legislation, and we expect more of our Republican colleagues to join us in this battle to protect liberty and freedom in the weeks ahead.
 
The right to a trial is a core principle of the American legal system. Depriving Americans of these essential liberties undermines the Constitution while doing nothing to strengthen our national security.
 
Allowing suspects to indefinitely linger in our cells is, in fact, detrimental to our national security goals. If a suspect is proven to be a terrorist, for the sake of the victims and deterring any future attacks, he or she must be brought to justice. America has done this with Timothy McVeigh and hundreds of other terrorists. Moreover, the ability of America to lead the world community is strengthened through partnership with allies. Reaffirming the justice of the American system bolsters our legitimacy with allies, thereby encouraging further cooperation and improving our national security.
 
The NDAA takes many steps to ensure that our military has all the essential resources it needs to continue keeping America safe and free. Our brave men and women in uniform signed up to protect our nation and the Constitution it was founded upon, and so too should Congress. With the passage of the Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011, the unnecessary ambiguities encumbering the NDAA will be cleared up. We encourage the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives to give the Due Process Act of 2011 the up-or-down vote it deserves.


Rep. Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Heinrich (D-N.M.) both serve on the House Armed Services Committee.