Former security officials: Plan to roll back detainee laws ‘rewarding terrorists’

The heads of the House Armed Services Committee are squaring off ahead of ranking member Adam Smith’s (D-Wash.) plan to introduce an amendment on the House floor this week that would roll back indefinite-detention laws.

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) released a letter Monday signed by two former attorneys general and a former Homeland Security secretary that supported McKeon’s adds to military detention rules included in this year’s defense authorization bill.

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The letter, written by former Attorneys General Edwin Meese III and Michael Mukasey and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, also attacked Smith’s amendment, which would bar military detention for terror suspects captured in the United States.

The letter, signed by seven other former security officials, said Smith’s amendment would be “rewarding terrorists.”

“Rewarding terrorists with greater rights for making it to the United States would actually incentivize them to come to our shores, or to recruit from within the United States, where they pose the greatest risk to the American people,” the letter said. “Such a result is perverse.”

Smith, who is pushing his amendment with Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) during the floor debate of the defense authorization bill this week, said in a statement Tuesday the letter’s claim was “ridiculous.”

“Besides contradicting the Constitution, to claim that we are somehow ‘rewarding terrorists’ is disingenuous and purely political,” Smith said.

“Both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have done a tremendous job of prosecuting terrorists in the United States without the use of indefinite detention, and without ultimately utilizing military custody in the United States,” he said. “The strength of our court system should be unquestioned.”

Smith and Amash say they are optimistic about the amendment’s chances of passing on the floor, as they say they’re gathering a bipartisan group of members to back it. The two are holding a press conference on the amendment Wednesday.

The detainee debate is poised to be one of the biggest for the defense authorization bill on the floor this week, renewing a fight that flared up during last year’s debate.

McKeon and other supporters of the detainee provisions say that the military needs the capability to capture and interrogate terror suspects wherever they might be, while opponents argue that civilian courts must have jurisdiction on U.S. soil, and federal law enforcement has been successful at thwarting terrorists.