Policy & Strategy

Lawmakers back indefinite detention for terror suspects in US

In two votes Friday morning, the House backed the president’s powers to indefinitely detain terror suspects captured on U.S. soil.

Lawmakers rejected an amendment that would have barred
military detention for terror suspects captured in the United States on a 182-231 vote,
beating back the proposal from a coalition of liberal Democrats and
libertarian-leaning Republicans led by Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.).

Instead, the House passed, by a vote of 243-173, an amendment to the National
Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) sponsored by Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas),
Jeff Landry (R-La.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) that affirmed U.S. citizens
would not be denied habeas corpus rights.

Smith and Amash had hoped to attract enough support
from libertarian-leaning Republicans to pass their measure, but only 19 Republicans voted for it, while 19 Democrats voted against.

{mosads}The detainee fight is shaping up to be one of the biggest for this year’s $643 billion defense authorization bill. The issue nearly derailed passage of last year’s version.

Smith’s amendment would have changed last year’s defense authorization
legislation and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) so
that terror suspects captured on U.S. soil would be handled by civilian courts, not the military.

The debate on the detainee amendments began after
midnight Thursday, as part of a late night on the House floor to get through
more than 140 amendments to the defense authorization bill.

Smith argued that indefinite detention gave the president an
“extraordinary” amount of power, and said the federal courts have successfully prosecuted
hundreds of terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Smith and his allies said Gohmert’s amendment was redundant, since
it affirms what is already true — that American citizens have habeas corpus rights.

Gohmert’s amendment was “offered as a smokescreen,” Smith said.

“It doesn’t protect any rights whatsoever,” he said.

But supporters of indefinite detention suggested that the
Smith-Amash amendment would incentivize terrorists to come to the United States, because
they would receive more rights on U.S. soil than outside the country.

Gohmert suggested at one point that terrorists “supported”
Smith’s amendment.

“We cannot look to guarantee those who seek to harm the U.S.
the constitutional rights granted to Americans,” said Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.).
“If we extend that to them, this war on terror, now it’s a criminal action.”

Like the detainee issue last year, the debate in the wee hours of Friday morning
saw the two sides often talking past one another.

Both sides have claimed the Constitution and the courts are
on their side, but legal experts say the federal courts have yet to take a firm
position about terror suspects on U.S. soil being detained indefinitely.

At the heart of the debate is a disagreement over whether
terrorist suspects should be granted Miranda rights, and whether constitutional
protections should be extended to terrorists.

Opponents of indefinite detention say that the Constitution
covers “all persons,” not just U.S. citizens, so anyone captured on American
soil should be granted rights to the court system.

Backers of indefinite detention say that terrorists should
not be given the right to remain silent, as the United States must have the ability to
extract intelligence from them to stop future attacks.

Tags Adam Smith Justin Amash Louie Gohmert Scott Rigell

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