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Senate defeats challenge to indefinite detention provision

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WASHINGTON — The polarized US Senate on Tuesday beat back an attempt to set aside proposed rules on detention of terrorism suspects, defying a White House veto threat and criticisms from the FBI and the Pentagon.

By a 37-61 margin, senators defeated an attempt to strip the proposed regulations from a vast annual spending bill that has yet to pass but is seen as a sure thing because it affects US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democratic Senator Mark Udall’s amendment would have replaced the rules with a call for US military and intelligence officials to study the plan and offer their own blueprint for how to interrogate and detain alleged extremists.

The proposed rules, which were likely to face challenges from other senators, are part of a $662 billion Defense Authorization bill that President Barack Obama has vowed to veto over the detainee provisions.

The controversial measures affirm Obama’s right to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely, including US citizens, and calls for al-Qaeda fighters who plot or carry out attacks on US targets to be held in military custody.

But they allow Obama to decide whether a detainee fits that definition, and permit the government to hold suspected al-Qaeda fighters in civilian custody after formally declaring that to be in the US national security interest.

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During an often testy debate, Udall noted that US civilian courts have convicted 300 suspected terrorists since the September 11, 2001 attacks, with many expected to die in prison, and urged: “Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.”

He also expressed worries that tough new standards for transferring detainees to other countries — notably a requirement that top US officials formally declare them no longer a threat — could hamper the US exit from Afghanistan.

The proposed rules explicitly say that the military detention requirement does not apply to US citizens, but supporters of the legislation stressed that American Al-Qaeda members may be held indefinitely without trial.

“The Supreme Court has recently ruled the following, that there is no bar to this nation’s holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant. This is the Supreme Court speaking,” said Democratic Senator Carl Levin.

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Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the proposed rules would not short-circuit the administration’s use of civilian trials for suspected terrorists and denied they would cripple civil liberties.

“We could see American citizens being sent to Guantanamo Bay,” countered Republican Senator Rand Paul, who warned the new provisions would not have prevented the failures that led to the September 11th attacks.

“These are not failures of laws. They are not failures of procedures. They are failures of imperfect men and women in bloated bureaucracies. No amount of liberty sacrificed on the altar of the state will ever change that,” he said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who voted against Udall’s amendment, accused Obama of overrelying on the FBI and other civilian institutions in fighting suspected terrorists.

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“America is part of the battlefield. We firmly believe the war is coming back home,” he said. “We’re fighting a war, not a crime.”

The White House two weeks ago warned that Obama would veto the bill, and the FBI, the Pentagon, and the Director of National Intelligence have all criticized the legislation.

Photo: Flickr user takomabibelot.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren leads Democrats in spirited first 2020 debate

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Ten Democrats clashed in the first debate of the 2020 presidential race Wednesday with Elizabeth Warren cementing her status as a top-tier candidate and several underdogs using the issue of immigration to clamor for the limelight.

The biggest American political debate since the 2016 presidential campaign is occurring over two nights in Miami, climaxing Thursday with former vice president Joe Biden squaring off against nine challengers, including number two candidate Bernie Sanders.

But Wednesday's first take was a spirited encounter between Democrats like ex-congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Cory Booker, former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on subjects as varied as health care, economic inequality, climate action, gun violence, Iran and immigration.

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Here are 4 winners and 9 losers from the first 2020 Democratic primary debate

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With ten candidates on stage Wednesday, the opening debate of the 2020 Democratic primary in Miami was a packed mess. And this was only the first course in a two-part event — 10 more candidates will debate on the following night.

A crowded field makes it difficult to stand out, and that means that even after a big night like a debate, the most likely result is that not much changes. But the debate was still significant, giving candidates the chance to exceed, meet, or fall below expectations for their performances.

Here's a list — necessarily subjective, of course — of the people who came out on the top when the dust was settled, and those who came out on the bottom.

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Here are 3 ways Julián Castro stood out in the first Democratic Debate

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There were many predictions going into the first Democratic debate on MSNBC, but no one predicted that Julián Castro would break out from the crowd.

Check out the top three ways Castro stood out from the crowd.

Immigration:

The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development was the outright winner of the immigration section of the debate

It should "piss us all off," Castro said about the father and his little girl who were found face-down in the shores of the Rio Grande River this week. “It’s heartbreaking."

Castro is a second generation American who got into specifics on immigration policy, calling for an outright "Marshall Plan" style of action for Guatemala and Honduras. He joined with other Democrats calling for an end to President Donald Trump's family separation policy, but he then suggested ending the "metering" of legitimate asylum seekers.

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