Yet this uncomplicated principle, which is within the understanding of a child, is apparently lost on a majority in the U.S. Senate. Earlier this week the Senate voted 61-37 in effect to authorize the executive branch to use the military to capture and hold American citizens indefinitely without trial – perhaps at Guantanamo — if they are merely suspected of involvement with a terrorist or related organization — and even if their suspected activity took place on U.S. soil.
The provision, which is included in the National Defense Authorization Act, was drafted without a public hearing by Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain. Sen. Mark Udall sponsored an amendment to remove the power, but the amendment was defeated. A related provision requires that terrorism suspects who are not citizens be held by the military rather than being tried in a civilian criminal court. (The executive branch can waive this requirement after certifying to Congress that the waiver is a matter of national security.)
The right of habeas corpus is preserved for citizens, but this is the barest minimal protection of a suspect’s rights.
The act passed today (Friday, December 2) and has to be reconciled with the House version.