Defense Bill Nixes Ban on Indefinite Detention for US Citizens

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/foreverdigital/1004203086/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Flickr/foreverdigital</a>

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In a closed-door negotiation, top Republican and Democratic lawmakers have killed a ban on detaining American citizens without trial.

The Senate approved the ban, a bipartisan effort led by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), as an amendment to the 2013 defense spending bill in a vote last month. But once the House and Senate met to negotiate the differences between their versions of the bill, the ban was scrapped. 

Of the four main negotiators on the defense bill, only one of the Democrats, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), opposes domestic indefinite detention of Americans. The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), believes detaining Americans without charge or trial is constitutional, and only voted for the Feinstein amendment because he and some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate convinced themselves through a convoluted legal rationale that Feinstein’s proposal didn’t actually ban the practice. Both of the main Republican negotiators, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) believe it’s constitutional to lock up American citizens suspected of terrorism without ever proving they’re guilty.

Civil liberties groups aren’t shedding any tears over the demise of the Feinstein-Lee amendment, either, though. They believed that because Feinstein’s proposal only guaranteed due process for US citizens and legal residents, instead of all persons within the United States, that it was ultimately unconstitutional anyway. 

“I was saddened and disappointed that we could not take a step forward to ensure at the very least American citizens and legal residents could not be held in detention without charge or trial,” Feinstein said in a statement to Mother Jones. “To me that was a no-brainer.”

The demise of the Feinstein-Lee proposal doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans suspected of terrorism in the US can be locked up forever without a trial. But it ensures that the next time a president tries to lock up an American citizen without trial—as President George W. Bush previously tried—it will be left up to the courts to decide whether or not it’s legal.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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