Senior Dems clash over barring detention of accused terrorists

House and Senate Democrats are clashing over whether to bar the military from detaining terrorism suspects on U.S. soil. 

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Tuesday that he does not support a proposal from Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) to change the executive branch's power to prevent the indefinite detention of suspects on U.S. soil. 

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Smith is the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, so the split divides the senior Democrats on military issues in each chamber. 

Smith is offering his amendment on the House floor this week as part of the Defense authorization bill.

Levin told The Hill that he wants to preserve the executive branch’s power to detain terror suspects in military detention if they’re captured in the U.S., even if the Obama administration isn’t using that power.

“They don’t have to exercise it, but I’m not so sure that they want the authority removed to arrest or to capture, because we're talking about war here — somebody who’s declared war against the United States, just because we capture them on U.S. soil,” Levin said.

“We can hold them on U.S. soil, but I don’t think we want to eliminate the authority of the Executive Branch to hold someone who’s declared war on the United States as an enemy combatant,” he said.

Levin added that he had not yet heard from the Obama administration for its position on terror detainees captured on U.S. soil.

Smith plans to offer his amendment with Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), which would reverse provisions in last year’s authorization bill as well as the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). 

Smith has argued that the Constitution requires due process rights for anyone captured on U.S. soil. He said Tuesday that “both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration have done a tremendous job of prosecuting terrorists in the United State without the use of indefinite detention, and without ultimately utilizing military custody in the United States.”

Supporters of military detention say that the administration needs as many tools as possible to fight terrorism, including military detention, and have argued that barring military detention on U.S. soil would provide incentive for terrorists to come here.

While many Democrats are likely to side with Smith in the House, Levin took on the Obama administration last year when it opposed detention provisions included in the 2012 Defense authorization bill.

Levin argued that the bill was not altering current law, and concerns about U.S. citizens being detained indefinitely were unfounded.