So much for the Great Writ of Habeas Corpus

The United States Senate voted yesterday to keep language in a defense authorization bill that would allow the federal government to indefinately detain American citizens without formal charges based on merely on the suspicion that they may be terrorists. Apparently, the writ of Habeau Corpus doesn’t mean what it used to:

The Senate soundly defeated a move to strip out controversial language requiring mandatory detention of some terror suspects, voting it down 61 to 37 and escalating a fight with the Obama administration over the future course of the war on terror.

The proposed amendment to the massive National Defense Authorization Act would require the FBI and other civilian law enforcement agencies to transfer al-Qaida suspects arrested overseas on charges of planning or carrying out a terror attack into military custody. It wouldn’t apply to American citizens, but the change has drawn strong opposition from civil rights groups and the White House, which has promised to veto the defense bill if that language was included.

The provision has also split the Democratic Party, triggering an unusual fight between the White House and Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who co-wrote the measure and took to the floor earlier on Tuesday to defend the amendment. Levin has also found himself in the cross hairs of powerful Democrats like Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California. Both lawmakers urged their colleagues to strip the detainee language out of the bill and accused Levin of overstepping his jurisdiction.

But Levin’s biggest Democratic opponent was Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who sponsored an amendment designed to remove the detainee language.

You can find out how your Senators voted here. You can also check out the text of Sen. Udall’s amendment here.

At least one conservative, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has responded publicly to the criticism over his vote to approve the bill with the controversial language, which the White House objects to (don’t hold your breath), noting that he wants the language curtailed (though he doesn’t explain what exactly was wrong with Udall’s amendment):

“Congress should make absolutely clear that the U.S. government does not have authority to detain an American citizen indefinitely without trial and proper constitutional process,” said Senator Lee, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  “This amendment ensures the proper balance between individual liberty and national security, and maintains that we are both a free and a secure nation.”

Amendment #1126 to the NDAA states: “The authority described in this section for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain a person does not include the authority to detain a citizen of the United States without trial until the end of hostilities.”

Senator Lee strongly disapproves of any policy that would allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens.  Congress expects to vote on the amendment this week as a part of the NDAA package.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a fierce advocate for civil liberties, spoke passionately yesterday during the debate over the issue, respectfully criticizing those members of the body that would effectively gut the Constitution:

Let’s hope that Lee is right and they have another chance to strip this language. Keep in mind that whenever government power grows, it is often abused. It’s not crazy to suggest that the definition of a terrorist, at some point, will be expanded at some point to include those of us that criticize the government. Remember the DHS handbook on “domestic extremism” or the MIAC report? It may not be tomorrow and this may have “good intentions” today, but aborting civil liberties is never a good idea.

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