The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 47      December 26, 2011

Congress pushes military custody
for ‘terrorism’ suspects on US soil
(front page)
The draft $662 billion U.S. war budget contains provisions that would give the Pentagon the power to detain all “terrorism” suspects, including U.S. citizens taken on U.S. soil.

In addition, alleged “terrorists” would be denied basic rights and could be held indefinitely without trial.

Based on the congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the bill applies to “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

Two slightly different versions of the bill, one approved by the Senate and another by the House, were reconciled by a joint committee Dec. 12, and a final bill is being brought for a vote.

The two original bills established mandatory military custody for those with alleged ties to al-Qaeda and suspected of planning an attack, unless the suspect is a U.S. citizen, in which case military detention is at the Pentagon’s discretion.

President Barack Obama had said he might veto the bill if the provision is not revised, but not out of concern for the disregard of constitutional rights and legal protections. “Any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the nation would prompt the President’s senior advisers to recommend a veto,” said a Statement of Administration Policy in November.

Opposition to the provision on the grounds that it would weaken the prerogatives of the executive branch also was voiced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, FBI head Robert Mueller, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

In a move to deter a veto, the joint committee added a new clause asserting that nothing in the bill would affect access to such persons by “the FBI or any other domestic law enforcement agency,” even if still held in military custody.

In addition, the president is permitted to waive military custody, if he says doing so is based on “national security.”

All the attacks on constitutional rights, including indefinite detention without trial, remain.

“When they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up,’” Republican Lindsey Graham, argued in the Senate debate.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul presented some of the strongest protest. “A civilian could be grabbed from a breakfast nook in Pasadena, hustled though a closed hearing where a soldier asserts suspicions of terrorism, and then locked away for life in some Saudi rat hole, awaiting the chance to mount a defense against charges that never come,” he stated.

The Senate voted 99-1 for an amendment by Dianne Feinstein, which is retained in the final bill, saying it does not change current U.S. law concerning detention of people who are citizens or legal residents. However, politicians don’t agree on what “current law” says.

Both Sens. Graham and Democrat Carl Levin, who helped write the provision, “insisted that the Supreme Court had already approved holding Americans as enemy combatants, even people arrested inside the United States,” the New York Times reported.

“If you’re an enemy combatant, at that point you’re kept until the war is over,” Levin told a press conference when the final bill was announced Dec. 12, “When’s the war over? Nobody knows.”
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