Lawmakers announce bill prohibiting indefinite detention in U.S.
March 8th, 2012
01:49 PM ET

Lawmakers announce bill prohibiting indefinite detention in U.S.

By CNN National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo

Two Democratic members of Congress announced a bill Thursday that would prohibit the indefinite detention of any suspected terrorist apprehended in the United States, whether or not the suspect was a U.S. citizen.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said the legislation would ensure that anyone captured, detained, or arrested in the United States on suspicion of terrorism will go through the civilian justice system and be provided due process rights awarded under the Constitution.

This would not apply to suspected terrorists captured overseas who are now being held at the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"The goal here is to have clarity, first of all, on how these people are handled in the U.S., and second of all, to reassert the primacy and the importance of our civil justice system," Smith said. "It is our contention that our civil justice system absolutely protects us from the threat in this case."

The bill is aimed at amending a controversial provision added to the National Defense Authorization Act that gave the military the authority to indefinitely detain anyone suspected of terrorism in the United States.

"More than 10 years later, one thing has become absolutely clear: our criminal justice system in the U.S. is 100% adequate to take care of this problem," said Smith, who claimed that more than 400 terror suspects have been tried successfully by U.S. civilian courts. "But at the same time, on the books we have a law that gives the executive branch the power to indefinitely detain people here in the U.S., even U.S. citizens. And we believe that we should take that off the books."

Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, is worried the language in the new bill goes too far.

"For example, under the guise of providing 'access' to civilian courts, the Smith/Udall bill would actually require that foreign terrorists like the underwear bomber be held by civilian authorities and tried in civilian courts as common criminals," said McKeon spokesman Claude Chafin. "Those who attack us are not mere criminals, but terrorists, often carrying vital information about future attacks that our military can exploit to keep us safe. They should be treated as such."

The National Defense Authorization Act was strongly contested in Congress last year, with the issue of indefinite detention being high on the list of concerns for those who opposed its passing. President Barack Obama threatened to veto the bill, but after amendments were made, he relented.

"I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists," he said of the $662 billion legislation last year.

The White House had lifted a veto threat against the measure after legislators made changes in language involving detainees to make clear that nothing in the bill requiring military custody of al Qaeda suspects would interfere with the ability of civilian law enforcement to carry out terrorism investigations and interrogations in the United States.

"I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens," Obama said in a statement last year. "Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation."

Smith argued that the current administration's policy is not enough.

"Even though you can make the argument that this executive will not exercise the authority, has not exercised the authority, we don't believe that you can afford to allow that kind of power to reside in the executive branch," he said.

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Filed under: 9/11 • Detainees • Terrorism
soundoff (15 Responses)
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  6. Pete Masciave

    So does this mean that we are no longer at war with terrorism? Because if we were we would allow the military to handle our enemies. Why must our country continue to be so concerned with offending those that go against the principles we have been founded upon? Yes they have rights, but they are suspects just like a murderer or rapist. Let the branch that is responsible handle its own responsibilities, stop trying to micromanage.

    March 8, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • Nick

      Oh, I'm sorry, I thought this was America where liberty rings and indefinite detention of citizens is an act only a country like the USSR would do.

      March 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  7. boballende


    We can never allow weak-minded war hawks and cowards to ever again usurp the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

    March 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  8. mipolitic

    gitmo is not in the usa is it ? another possible location is davey jones locker that is now accomodating bin laden , or should i say most of bin laden .

    March 8, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
    • #1 Mossad Agent aka #1 AIPAC Spy - We Own You Stupid Americans


      We'll see about this crappy legislation.

      I will send out my minions to swamp Congress to vote NO!

      We want to be able to hold anyone, American or not, in America or overseas, in detention if we feel someone needs to be locked up and silenced.

      Our master,Bibi is going to have a fit, if he is not obeyed!!

      March 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Reply
  9. James

    Please encourage the support of this bill with you representatives.

    March 8, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply

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