'Travesty of Justice': Limits on President's Detention Powers Stripped from Final Defense Bill

The amendment from Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) to block the president’s broad power to hold American citizens without trial was stripped from the final defense authorization bill in conference, prompting a “no” vote on the entire bill from Lee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).


Civil libertarian supporters in the upper chamber have stressed the urgency of passing the language for fear that more than actual terrorists could be detained by the government’s current authority.

The bill authorizing $633 billion in spending went to President Obama’s desk today after passing 81-14 in the Senate. The House approved the conference report 315-107 on Thursday.

Obama has vowed to veto the bill, but it passed with a veto-proof majority.

The Feinstein-Lee amenement had passed the Senate 67-29 on Nov. 29. The conference committee led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) removed this provision, making an enemy of Paul, who called it a “travesty of justice.”

“These core American legal privileges prescribed in our Bill of Rights have been observed since our nation’s founding. When I assumed office, I took an oath to protect our Constitution – and in voting against this unconstitutional NDAA, I kept that promise,” Paul said.

“The right to due process, a trial by jury, and protection from indefinite detention should not be shorn from our Bill of Rights or wrested from the hands of Americans. It is a dark day in our history that these rights have been stomped upon and discarded,” he continued.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Paul called the exclusion of the provision “so fundamentally wrong and goes against everything we stand for as a country that it can’t go unnoticed and should be pointed out.”


“Now, some here may not care when they determine that they are going to detain Ahmed or Yusef or Ibrahim, but many innocents are named those names. Many Americans are named Saul or David or Isaac. Is our memory so short that we don’t understand the danger of allowing detention without trial? Is our memory so short that we don’t understand the havoc that bias and bigotry can do when unrestrained by law? Your trial by jury is your last defense against tyranny, your last defense against oppression. We have locked up Arabs, we have locked up Jews, we have locked up the Japanese. Do you not want to retain your right to trial by jury? Do you want to allow the whims of government to come forward and lock up who they please without being tried?” he said.

“Proponents of indefinite detention will argue that we are a good people and that we will never unjustly detain people. I don’t dispute their intentions or impute bad motives to them, but what I will say is remember what Madison said. Madison said that if a government were comprised of angels, we wouldn’t need the chains of the constitution.”

Other senators voting against the defense authorization bill were Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).


Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he was “happy” to see the bill pass.

“We faced hurdles in bringing this bill to the Senate floor, and I remain frustrated that it took so long to pass this bill so critical to the safety and livelihood of our servicemen and women and to the security of our country,” Portman said. “I am pleased that the Senate was finally able to push the bill over the finish line and ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely without compromising our national defense.”



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