Senator says the measure balances civil liberties with national security
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Sen. Mark Udall this week said he would introduce legislation aimed at nullifying a controversial provision passed as part of the defense bill that requires the military to detain on U.S. soil any individuals suspected of terrorism.
The bill would ensure access to U.S. courts for anyone detained on U.S. territory and prohibit indefinite detention and transfer to foreign countries for individuals detained in the United States, according to a fact sheet issued by Udall’s office.It also would reverse the mandatory military custody for foreign terrorist suspects linked to al-Qaida.
Udall said the measure he’s proposing strikes a balance between protecting civil liberties and maintaining national security. Rep. Adam Smith, joined Udall at a press conference on the measures and introduced a companion bill in the House.
Some Republican members of the House opposed the measure immediately, issuing statements that the law would hinder the military’s ability to get valuable intelligence information from suspects.
A member of both the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, Udall opposed the detention provisions from the beginning. He was the only one to vote against the provisions in committee, and subsequently called repeatedly for debate on the issue and time to consider its ramifications for law enforcement and military officials, and the American people.
“I have grave concerns that the NDAA detention provisions could weaken our national security and our constitutional protections, and I am committed to finding a way to strike them,” Udall said. “I believe that the language we’ve crafted for this bill addresses the concerns I’ve heard from many, many Coloradans – and from my colleagues from both chambers and both sides of the aisle. Our Constitution is in many ways the most powerful weapon we have against those who mean us harm. We can’t afford to erode our liberties – in the end that will leave us more at risk.”
Udall’s and Smith’s bills also prohibit military commissions and indefinite detention for individuals in the United States and affirm that any trial proceedings have all the due process as provided for under the Constitution.
Udall said he hopes the bill supports the success of civilian law enforcement and federal courts in locking up suspected terrorists. More than 400 defendants charged with crimes related to international terrorism have been successfully convicted in the United States since 9/11, and more than 300 individuals are currently in jail within the United States with no escapes or retaliatory attack.
“Our civilian law enforcement investigations have a proven track record of success and have provided intelligence and admissible statements without Miranda in “crisis detention” situations, as demonstrated by the recent mandatory life sentence received by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Underwear Bomber,” according to the fact sheet.
“While this administration has said it won’t hold American citizens or lawful permanent residents in military custody, that is the interpretation of only one president. That policy won’t tie the hands of future administrations,” Udall continued.
“The indefinite detention provisions threaten to undo much of the progress the FBI and law enforcement have made to stop terrorists plotting in the United States and overseas, and it seems to make it more difficult to collaboratively gather intelligence on domestic terror cells at all. The last thing we should be doing is preventing local, state and federal authorities from investigating and acting on threats to our safety,” he concluded.
According to Udall, the measure would also strengthen international cooperative efforts to fight terrorism.Some countries have indicated that they will not cooperate with the United States in certain counterterrorism efforts, for example, in providing evidence or extraditing suspects, if the U.S. intends to use that cooperation in pursuit of a military commission prosecution.
In late February, President Obama said he would not use the provision to detain American citizens in military custody and that he might issue national security waivers to the detention provisions.
Udall praised Obama’s announcement in a press release, when he also announced his intention to draw up a law that would remove the provisions.
“I had grave concerns about how these provisions would be implemented, and I hope the president’s policy will help safeguard constitutional protections while preserving the flexibility of our military, law enforcement and intelligence officials. I commend President Obama for listening to the many Coloradans and Americans who spoke up against the military detention provisions that passed last year. These provisions were included as part of the must-pass defense bill, and all of our collective work to shine a light on the harm they would do has empowered the administration to make this important decision.
“I am also pleased that the Obama administration has stated it will not hold American citizens or lawful permanent residents in military custody. We cannot let rigid procedures interrupt or threaten our ability to investigate, identify, locate and capture terrorists that seek to do us harm.
“While the president’s announcement is an important step, the fight against the detention provisions, especially as they relate to military actions in the United States and involve U.S. citizens, is not over. This is only one administration’s interpretation of enduring law. I worry about how the next administration may choose to view these provisions, and I will continue with my colleagues to craft legislation that protects citizens and our constitutional freedoms.”