Military detainment powers dominate Congressional debate

The Senate has taken up the 2012 Defense Authorization Act, which will fund and dictate policy for the Defense Department for the fiscal year, and so far debate has been dominated by a provision that allows the military to indefinitely detain citizens suspected of terrorism in the U.S. and around the world without going through the U.S. justice system -- even on American soil.

The Senate has also approved an amendment providing for the inclusion of the National Guard as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This week's floor action thus far has overshadowed other parts of the bill expected to be debated, including the approval of funding for Joint Urgent Operational Needs and the acquisition of cyber defenses. The bill also calls for, and discussion is expected about, the development of capabilities that detect previously unknown cyber attacks.

The controversial detainee language in the Senate defense bill sparked tension on and beyond the Hill, with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), in particular going head to head on the Senate floor Nov. 29.

Paul, along with Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who sponsored a failed amendment striking the bulk of the detainee language, argued that the provision dealing with the handling of suspected terrorists could be a threat to civil liberties. Udall stressed the opposition of high-profile figures like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who have publicly expressed concern over the measure.

“Should we err today and remove some of the most important checks on state power in the name of fighting terrorism? Well, then the terrorists have won,” Paul said. “Detaining American citizens without a court trial is not American.”

But McCain and others who supported the measure, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), argued that the measure is vital to protecting U.S. security in wartime.

“An individual, no matter who they are, if they pose a threat to the security of the United States of America, should not be allowed to continue that threat,” McCain said. “We need to take every step necessary to prevent that from happening, that’s for the safety and security of the men and women who are out there risking their lives ... in our armed services.”

Udall’s measure was defeated 37-61 on Nov. 29. The Senate will continue to debate the bill and is expected to vote on it soon.

The overall bill budgets for $663 billion in military spending for military personnel, weapons systems and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The House passed its own version of the defense authorization in May.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.


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