US lawmakers struck down a contentious provision Friday that would have curtailed the government’s power to indefinitely hold suspected terrorists captured on American soil.
The measure, backed by an odd coalition of liberal Democrats and some Tea Party-backed Republican conservatives, had sought to ensure that suspected terrorists detained in the United States be charged with crimes and tried in federal courts.
The amendment, which went down by a 182-238 vote, was among the most controversial of 142 amendments under consideration as part of a huge military spending bill that provides $642.5 billion to the Defense Department and other related agencies for the coming fiscal year.
Sponsors Adam Smith, the top Democrat in the House Armed Services Committee, and Republican Justin Amash argued that the rights to a charge and trial are protected by the US Constitution, even for non-American terror suspects if they are caught in the United States.
The Smith-Amash amendment aimed to strike a clause in last year’s Defense Authorization act that allowed for the indefinite detention without trial.
“Leaving these powers on the books is not only a dangerous threat to our civil liberties, but also undermines one of our strongest assets in trying suspected terrorists: (federal) courts and domestic law enforcement,” Smith and Amash said in an opinion piece in Friday’s Politico newspaper.
Since the 9/11 attacks, “the federal government has successfully prosecuted more than 400 defendants charged with crimes related to international terrorism,” they said. “That is a proven track record of success that we should embrace.”
Their measure was not aimed at persons detained abroad, such as terror suspects captured in Afghanistan or Iraq and sent to the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It encountered stiff opposition from national security hawks like Senator John McCain, who warned that the amendment “would tie the hands of this president and his successors” by forcing terror suspects into the federal civilian justice system.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi expressed disappointment with the vote, saying the provision would have addressed concerns voiced by President Barack Obama last year about indefinite detention of US citizens.
[The West side of the US Capitol Building is seen in Washington, DC. AFP Photo/Karen Bleier]