Lawmaker obtains commitment to revisit detainee language

Freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) told The Hill on Monday that he has a commitment from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to revisit the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to ensure that language related to detainees does not give the U.S. government new rights to hold U.S. citizens without due process.

"We have assurances that they would work to clarify the language," Landry told The Hill. "I have a commitment from the chairman that the type of language I have is the type of language he would use to clarify that."

ADVERTISEMENT
Landry has introduced H.R. 3676, which would amend the NDAA by saying that "no United States citizen may be detained against his or her will without all the rights of due process afforded to the citizen in a court ordained or established by or under Article III of the Constitution of the United States."

The language in the NDAA bill approved last week reaffirms the authority of the government to detain suspected terrorist associates and requires military detention of anyone who plots an attack against the United States. The bill does say explicitly that no new authority is created to detain U.S. citizens, and that the military detention language does not apply to citizens.

But Landry and several other members — as well as many non-governmental organizations — expressed the fear last week that the language could create some wiggle room for the administration, and wanted extra assurances that U.S. citizens would be protected.

"The problem we've had is that Congress over the last 30 years has just not done a good job of basically telling the administration through legislation what the confines of its power are," Landry said. "All we're trying to do is say look, this is what Congress is trying to intend."

Landry entered into a colloquy with McKeon last week, just before the bill passed, in which McKeon agreed that nothing in the bill would lead to detentions of U.S. citizens or block habeas corpus rights. Landry said the value of that discussion was to make clear the legislative intent of Congress, but said moving his bill would help clarify the issue further.

Because Congress is nearly done with its work for the year, Landry said he expects McKeon's committee to consider Landry's bill early next year, and said he would push for the start of work in January. Landry said he hopes a committee hearing will help to clarify the issues further and possibly lead to improvements to his bill, which could lead to quick committee action and moving an amendment to the House floor.

"The Founding Fathers granted Congress specific duties; and as a representative of the people, it is my duty to pass laws that protect the Constitutional rights of all American citizens," Landry said last week. "Toward this end, any statute that could possibly be interpreted to allow a President to detain American citizens without charge or trial is incredibly alarming and should be cautiously scrutinized."

Landry's bill has 23 co-sponsors, including several Democrats and Republicans, such as House Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

More in House

Tearful lawmakers say goodbye

Read more »