Lawmakers clash over rules for detaining terrorism suspects

House members clashed at midnight over how to fix language allowing the permanent detention of terrorist suspects. 

The fit pitted Republicans vs. Republicans, and centered on language in last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allowed the president to indefinitely detain terrorist suspects. 

While that bill specified that the detention language did not override the rights American citizens have to due process, several members of Congress were worried that Americans could still be detained.

Lawmakers will vote on the amendments on Friday. 

Republicans added language to the 2013 bill that is meant to further clarify that anyone detained in the United States would not be denied habeas corpus, or the right to appear in court.

ADVERTISEMENT
But that change did not discourage two camps in the House from seeking further changes. At about midnight, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) called up his amendment, which he and other supporters said is aimed at further ensuring that American citizens are not detained under the law.

"It ensures that every American has access to our courts, and ensures that they will not be indefinitely detained," Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) said. But these members indicated that their language is intended to allow continued detention of terrorists.

"Those of us that have sponsored this amendment want to fix the possible problem of inappropriate detention," Gohmert said.

Others, including Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Adam Smith (D-Wash.), argued that Gohmert's language was redundant, and simply reaffirms that anyone with rights in the United States should not be denied those rights. They argued that the real issue is that the government should not have the right to indefinitely detain those captured on U.S. soil, and put forward an amendment eliminating that language.

"If you want to protect the rights of people in this country, you want to support this amendment," Smith said of his language. Amash agreed that the Gohmert language would have no practical effect, and said it might even delay rights to people, since it says people can file for habeas corpus rights no later than 30 days — Amash said that right is automatic now.

But Gohmert and Landry said eliminating the ability to permanently detain terror suspects goes too far. At one point, Gohmert said terrorists would prefer Smith's language, a point Landry agreed with by arguing that Smith's language would lead to kinder treatment of terrorists in the United States than abroad.

"Unfortunately, some in this body choose to believe that our soil here is not a battlefield in the war on terror," Landry said. "They want to treat an al Qaeda cell in Seattle differently or better than an al Qaeda cell in Yemen.

"What we are saying it that people who are terrorists and kill Americans on American soil should not have more rights than an immigrant who is here peaceably but who is subject to the laws and subject to detention without going to an Article III court," Gohmert added.