There’s good news and bad news from this year’s debate over the National Defense Authorization Act. The good news is that the Senate passed an amendment that would rescind the president’s authority to detain American citizens in military prison indefinitely.
The U.S. Senate voted Thursday night to prohibit the use of law-of-war powers to detain U.S. citizens or legal residents captured on U.S. soil.
The measure, proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, passed 67-29. A total of 20 Republicans joined with 46 Democrats and one independent to back Feinstein’s proposal. Most Republicans voted against the measure, as did Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
The key language in Feinstein’s amendment reads: “An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.”
Now let’s see if that can get past the House. I’m betting that it will, actually, because a number of the Tea Party Republican types, like Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, are opposed to that authority and will likely join with Democrats to get rid of it. Now the bad news:
In a separate vote earlier in the evening, senators approved, 54-41, another amendment that seeks to make permanent a ban on moving Guantanamo Bay prisoners to the United States. Such transfers are banned under the current year’s defense authorization bill and various appropriations measures. The language offered by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) would put such a ban in place indefinitely.
Earlier Thursday, the White House threatened a veto of the defense bill prior to the latest amendments being offered. Aides to President Barack Obama have also indicated that he objects to measures like Ayotte’s, but since he has previously signed bills containing similar legislation it is difficult to see why the president would refuse to do so this time around.
The president has never put up much of a fight on that issue and I doubt he would this time either.