Senate rejects effort to ease terrorist detainee policy in defense bill

The Senate rejected an amendment on Tuesday that would have removed a provision from the pending Defense spending bill to toughen U.S. policy towards suspected terrorists captured on the battlefield or on the home front.

The amendment, defeated 37-61, would have struck a section of the spending bill that authorizes the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to detain people suspected of terrorism and instead would have implemented a timeline to allow further hearings and opportunities for the military to make recommendations on how detainee policy ought to change. 

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Prior to the vote, the amendment's author, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), argued that military and law enforcement professionals ought to be given a louder voice in the deliberation over a policy that could so drastically affect the execution of their duties.

"We are ignoring the advice and the input of the director of the FBI, the director of the intelligence community, the attorney general of the United States, the Secretary of Defense and the White House," said Udall. 

“My amendment would take out these provisions, and give us in the Congress an opportunity to take a hard look at the needs of our counterterrorism professionals, and respond in a measured way that reflects the input of those who are actually fighting our enemies,” Udall had said on the Senate floor. “The secretary of Defense is warning us that we may be making mistakes that will hurt our capacity to fight terrorism at home and abroad.”

Udall also said he feared the provision could apply to U.S. citizens, which he said would be an “unprecedented threat to our constitutional liberties.”

But Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-Mich.) fired back, addressing concerns voiced throughout the day by both progressives and liberals in the Senate that the law would allow American citizens to be detained without a civilian trial.

“The Supreme Court has recently ruled there is no bar to the United States holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant,” said Levin. “This is the Supreme Court speaking.“

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said that any U.S. citizen suspected of aiding al Qaeda would be entitled to a trial. “The idea that an American citizen helping al Qaeda doesn’t get due process is just a lie,” Graham said.

The White House had opposed the detainee language, describing it as an effort to handcuff the administration's ability to develop their own policies on the handling of suspected terrorists.


“The Administration strongly objects to the military custody provision of section 1032, which would appear to mandate military custody for a certain class of terrorism suspects,” the White House said in a Nov. 17 release. “This unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the President’s authority to defend the Nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals.”


Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Jim Webb (Va.) supported Udall's amendment, however there was strong opposition from a bipartisan group of senators who said that the detainee language at issues had already been approved in committee.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) both spoke in favor of the detainee language.

Pete Kasperowicz contributed.



This story was updated at 4:12 p.m.