Senators reach compromise on detainee language in DOD bill
December 1st, 2011
07:20 PM ET

Senators reach compromise on detainee language in DOD bill

The Senate on Thursday passed a giant defense bill that includes a new policy for detaining and trying suspected al Qaeda terrorists - a policy that attracted controversy during the debate and may draw a presidential veto.

The defense authorization bill passed by a vote of 93-7.

In keeping with budget cuts across the government, the $662 billion bill shrinks Pentagon spending by $43 billion from last year. It includes funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and sets policies for the various weapons systems and personnel programs at the Defense Department.

Senate debate on the detainee matter was at times volatile and emotional.

After years of struggling with issues of who should investigate, detain and try suspected terrorists - civilian authorities and courts or the military and its tribunal system - Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Ranking Republicans John McCain of Arizona reached a long-sought compromise to codify the process.

However, critics complained the deal was weighted toward the military because it required any suspected al Qaeda terrorists, even those captured inside the U.S., to be held potentially indefinitely by the military. That concerned the White House and many lawmakers who think the responsibility belongs, in part, to law enforcement agencies and the federal courts and warned that Americans could possibly be detained indefinitely by the military.

Levin and McCain denied their bill would allow for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.

"This country is special because we have certain values, and due process of law is one of those values," Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, argued on the Senate floor. "I object to holding American citizens without trial. I do not believe that makes us more safe."

"You have people on the left who hate saying 'the war on terror,' responded Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina. "They would never ever use the military and always insist the law enforcement be used because they don't buy into the idea that we're at war. They want to criminalize the war."

Senators ultimately reached an agreement to amend the bill to make clear it's not the bill's intent to allow for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and others legally residing in the country.

"It would provide the assurance that we are not adversely affecting the rights of American citizens in this language," Levin said while expressing support for the compromise.

"It supports present law," Feinstein added.

Senators from both parties also challenged the Obama administration's policies toward Iran, unanimously approving an amendment insisting on tough new sanctions against Iran's Central Bank and entities that do business with it. Senators want to punish Iran over its pursuit of a nuclear weapons programs and the recent storming of the British Embassy in Tehran.

The administration complained the Senate amendment would make it difficult for the White House to manage a delicate foreign policy matter.

Also Thursday, the Senate approved on a voice vote a Democratic amendment requiring President Barack Obama to develop a plan to expedite the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

While it's not clear the amendment will force any actual acceleration of the withdrawal, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, said the Senate vote was a "message" to the president that U.S. troops have successfully performed their mission of stamping out al Qaeda and the 9-11 terrorists and "it's time to bring our men and women home."

The measure still needs to go to conference for reconciliation with the House version of the bill.

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Filed under: Al Qaeda
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. PeterTF

    The critical thing to know about this bill is this:
    – The Director of National Intelligence opposes it.
    – The Secretary of Defense opposes it.
    – The FBI Director opposes it.
    – The CIA Director opposes it.
    – The Justice Department opposes it.
    – A long list of national security professionals oppose it.

    These ridiculous provisions are not wanted by anyone with actual national security responsibility and the people with those responsibilities see this as making their jobs harder, not easier. This is the worst form of congressional meddling.

    What you can expect from the bill is a slew of dishonest 30 second commercials about being "tough on terrorism."

    And I didn't even get into the gross abuses of the US constitution involved.

    December 3, 2011 at 11:35 am | Reply
  2. ApostasyUSA

    Veto the Prison industrial complex!!

    Veto veto veto! Veto the Cheney bill!

    December 2, 2011 at 10:08 am | Reply

    By the way, the compromise language was as follows:

    "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens or lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States."

    December 2, 2011 at 4:20 am | Reply
    • Dawn Babcock Papple

      Lawful? So, peaceful civil disobedience like a march or a sit in opposing gov't dealings with corporations, those wouldn't be covered. Right? Because they aren't lawful.

      December 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  4. David Wm

    OMG, WOW, WOW, WOW! Senators compromised! Did I really read that?!? It was beginning to feel as if the only time we would ever hear the word "compromised" in connection with the US Congress would be in connection to their sex lives.

    December 2, 2011 at 3:21 am | Reply
  5. John G.

    What concerns me about this provision is that it all hinges on how the government or military defines an enemy combatant. Are we privy to how they arrive at that determination? Do we have any say as to who is or isn't an enemy combatant?

    There are clear cut cases of who is or isn't an enemy combatant, but who is to stop them from expanding the definition? Will they consider anyone who wishes to protest or speak out against the president, congress, or the military as an enemy sympathizer, hence a potential enemy combatant? Who is to stop powerful political figures, large corporations, lobbyists, or simply people with differing political views to use these provisions to unjustly accuse someone or some group of being "potential combatants" simply to silence them?

    It appears to me that the war on terror will never end, as long as the US defends the interests of certain countries and certain industries.

    December 2, 2011 at 1:43 am | Reply
  6. Jay P

    The article states there has been a compromise with the language used regarding detainees. What exactly IS the newly compromised language? You kind of left that part out.

    December 2, 2011 at 12:09 am | Reply

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