News that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is negotiating with the White House on legislation to create a framework for handling terrorism detainees has some civil rights groups alarmed at the prospect of indefinite detention without trial being encoded into US law.
The Washington Post‘s Anne Kornblut reported Wednesday that Graham, who sits on the Senate’s Armed Services, Homeland Security and Judiciary committees, “has submitted draft legislation to the White House in an effort to create a broad framework for handling terrorism suspects, mapping out proposals that appeal to the administration and others that do not.”
The legislation is reportedly an attempt to seal a deal between the White House and congressional Republicans on a way to move forward on the detention of terrorism detainees. The deal that would see Republicans support President Obama’s plan to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, in exchange for the president’s support of new terrorism detention laws.
Kornblut reported that some issues in the proposed legislation, “particularly rules governing the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, are more complicated and might not get resolved immediately.”
While that suggested some White House opposition to the idea, rights groups and bloggers went on the offensive, warning the Obama administration not to agree to any measures that would see some terrorism suspects denied access to courts, whether civilian or military.
Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent notes that Graham has recently voiced support for just such a legal mechanism.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“There has to be some type of statute — and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been clear on that — for indefinite detention,Ã¢â‚¬Â Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said, as quoted by Ackerman. Some terrorism suspects are “too dangerous to release; but we also arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t going to try them in either a military or a civilian court. So there has to be a system for that, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why Senator Graham is looking for a legal framework.”
The idea of detention without trial is “un-American and violates our commitment to due process and the rule of law,” the ACLU said in a statement.
“Even during years immediately following 9/11, Congress never took the unprecedented step of passing an indefinite detention statute,” said Laura W. Murphy, head of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office. “Now that there is a president and Congress who have stated a commitment to the rule of law, it would be a terrible irony to have this kind of legislation seriously considered. We urge both the White House and Congress to reject any indefinite detention proposal.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Although details of the bill are vague, it doesn’t appear that Graham’s proposals will be as radical as those proposed recently by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ).
Under their proposal, anyone suspected of terrorist activities or supporting terrorism would by law have to be detained by the military and “may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States.”
That proposal has been slammed by civil libertarians as opening the door to a military dictatorship in the US.
“It’s probably the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill introduced in the Senate in the last several decades,” wrote Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald of the Liberman-McCain proposal. “It literally empowers the president to imprison anyone he wants in his sole discretion by simply decreeing them a terrorist suspect — including American citizens arrested on US soil.”
While it’s unlikely that President Obama will sign that bill into law, the Graham proposal is being taken much more seriously. Some elements of the bill are reportedly less controversial than the indefinite detention element.
The Post‘s Kornblut reports that “certain ideas under discussion appear likely to yield a compromise … One promising area involves creating standard procedures for addressing detainees’ petitions for habeas corpus, which force the government to make its case for continued detention, rather than leaving those decisions up to individual judges.”
Kornblut notes that the White House is opposed to another proposal in the bill, which would see the US set up a “national security court” to hear cases involving terror suspects.