Defense Bill Nixes Ban on Indefinite Detention for US Citizens

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreverdigital/1004203086/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Flickr/foreverdigital</a>

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


In a closed-door negotiation, top Republican and Democratic lawmakers have killed a ban on detaining American citizens without trial.

The Senate approved the ban, a bipartisan effort led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), as an amendment to the 2013 defense spending bill in a vote last month. But once the House and Senate met to negotiate the differences between their versions of the bill, the ban was scrapped. 

Of the four main negotiators on the defense bill, only one of the Democrats, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), opposes domestic indefinite detention of Americans. The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), believes detaining Americans without charge or trial is constitutional, and only voted for the Feinstein amendment because he and some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate convinced themselves through a convoluted legal rationale that Feinstein’s proposal didn’t actually ban the practice. Both of the main Republican negotiators, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) believe it’s constitutional to lock up American citizens suspected of terrorism without ever proving they’re guilty.

Civil liberties groups aren’t shedding any tears over the demise of the Feinstein-Lee amendment, either, though. They believed that because Feinstein’s proposal only guaranteed due process for US citizens and legal residents, instead of all persons within the United States, that it was ultimately unconstitutional anyway. 

“I was saddened and disappointed that we could not take a step forward to ensure at the very least American citizens and legal residents could not be held in detention without charge or trial,” Feinstein said in a statement to Mother Jones. “To me that was a no-brainer.”

The demise of the Feinstein-Lee proposal doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans suspected of terrorism in the US can be locked up forever without a trial. But it ensures that the next time a president tries to lock up an American citizen without trial—as President George W. Bush previously tried—it will be left up to the courts to decide whether or not it’s legal.

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate