A unique alliance between a Tea Party Republican and Democratic stalwart pushed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act on the Senate floor today to block the president’s broad power to hold American citizens without trial.
Civil libertarian supporters in the upper chamber stressed the urgency of passing the language for fear that more than actual terrorists could be detained by the government’s current authority.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) essentially mirrored their Due Process Guarantee Act of last year, which got stuck in committee after hearings.
That bill was “to clarify that an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States and for other purposes.”
In short, it would ban the military detention of Americans captured on U.S. soil — and attempts to stop any abuse of the powers by the executive branch.
Lee said on the Senate floor today that he and Feinstein have been working together over the past year to get passage of the bill — now in amendment form — “to craft what we believe represents a very prudent course in protecting both our nation and our liberties at the same time.”
“We must stand behind our 225-year-old founding document as it’s been amended to ensure our liberty isn’t taken away from us, to give us a path to providing for our security without jeopardizing the freedom that our American citizens cherish so much and have fought so hard and so long to protect,” Lee said. “Granting the United States government the power to deprive its own citizens of life, liberty, or property without full due process of law goes against the very nature of our nation’s great constitutional values. This amendment, the Feinstein-Lee amendment, protects those values.”
Feinstein outlined in “very clear” terms what the amendment is and is not about.
“It’s not about whether citizens such as [Yaser Esam] Hamdi and [Jose] Padilla or others who would do us harm should be captured, interrogated, incarcerated, and severely punished,” she said. “They should be. But what about an innocent American? What about someone in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong skin color?”
“The beauty of our Constitution is that it gives everyone in the United States basic due process rights to a trial by a jury of their peers. That is what makes this nation great,” Feinstein continued. “…The federal government experimented with indefinite detention of United States citizens during World War II, a mistake we now recognize as a betrayal of our core values. Let’s not repeat it.”
The president was granted absolute power to make such detentions under last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, with a Feinstein amendment to exclude U.S. citizens from the detention authority failing 45-55.