Defense Authorization Bill Compromise Sparks Sharp Opposition

Washington, DC – In the wake of yesterday’s announced Senate Armed Services Committee defense authorization compromise, Human Rights First is praising the Obama Administration and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for their forceful opposition to the proposal that would undermine national security and the rule of law. Specifically, in response to proposed changes to provisions on terrorism detainees that were ultimately adopted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote a letter to Chairman Levin expressing “substantial concerns” about the negative consequences the provisions would have on national security. Senators Leahy and Feinstein, chairs of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, expressed similar concerns in a joint statement. “The new defense bill language, negotiated in secret and without public debate, is as bad as if not worse than the original,” said Human Rights First’s Raha Wala. “One has to ask why the committee is ignoring warnings by national security experts that the legislation will undermine our national security.” Among other things, the defense bill would let the government imprison people without proof, indefinitely, merely on suspicion of criminality. Moreover, the bill would potentially eviscerate the crucial role of the FBI and local law enforcement in domestic counterterrorism operations by mandating military custody for a large category of terrorism suspects. Retired generals and admirals, former FBI officials, and retired federal judges have all spoken out that the defense bill would weaken our national security by limiting the array of options currently available to incapacitate terror suspects. In his letter, Secretary Panetta wrote that the mandatory military custody provision “restrains the Executive Branch’s options to utilize, in a swift and flexible fashion, all the counterterrorism tools that are now currently available.”

Senators Leahy and Feinstein, in a joint statement, said that the detainee provisions are “unwise, and will harm our national security.” The Senators also noted that terrorism matters lie primarily within their committees’ jurisdictions and that they were not consulted when the armed services committee drafted the provisions. “America has not legislated indefinite detention since the McCarthy era,” Wala stated. “Authorizing the military to detain terror suspects apprehended within the United States clearly goes against the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act, a law that has prevented the military from taking on domestic law enforcement functions since the Civil War.” The full Senate will soon consider the defense bill, which continues to draw widespread opposition from national security experts across the political spectrum. As this bill moves to the full Senate, the Obama Administration should make clear that it will veto any bill that contains provisions designed to tie the President’s hands.


Published on November 16, 2011


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