Senate Dems still hope to change DOD bill's rules on terror suspect detainees

Despite Tuesday’s Senate vote against an amendment that would strip out language mandating military detention of terror suspects from the Defense spending bill, some Democrats still are looking at ways to change the provisions before the bill is passed.

Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) amendment was defeated 38-60 Tuesday, with all but two Republicans joining 16 Democrats to oppose it.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Senate moved to end debate on the Defense authorization bill 88-12 Wednesday, and the final bill could be voted on as early as Thursday.

In the meantime, dozens of amendments will be considered on the Senate floor.

With Udall’s amendment defeated, opponents of the detainee provisions are backing two amendments from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to change the language. One would exclude American citizens from being detained by the military, and the other would provide more flexibility for nonmilitary prosecution of terror suspects.

Udall said on the Senate floor Wednesday that some opponents of his amendment are still interested in making targeted changes to the bill.

“The current language in the bill may disrupt the investigation, interrogation and prosecution of terrorist suspects by forcing the military to interrupt FBI, CIA or other counterterrorism agency operations,” Udall said. “This would be an unworkable bureaucratic process that would take away the ability to make critical and split-second decisions about how best to save Americans’ lives.”

Udall, Feinstein and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have led efforts to remove the terror detainee provisions, which have drawn a veto threat from the White House.

The bill currently mandates that the military should detain and prosecute terror suspects, while granting a waiver for the executive branch that would allow trials in civilian courts.

The White House said in its veto threat this provision would be overly burdensome for counterterrorism law enforcement officials. The administration also objected to restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantánamo Bay.

Liberals and libertarians have raised concerns about the legislation allowing for indefinite military detention of American citizens, but supporters say that is not the case.