A group of Senate Democrats sent a letter to majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last Friday slamming the detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act as “undue and dangerous”:
Section 1032 would require that certain terrorism suspects be held in the custody of the Armed Forces, which could disrupt vital counterterrorism operations. For example, if these controversial provisions are enacted, the FBI might have to hand over a terrorism suspect captured in the U.S.—like Najibullah Zazi—to the military in the middle of an interrogation, even if the individual is providing usefl intelligence to the FBI about an unfolding terrorist plot. In addition, under these sections, a suspected terrorist captured abroad—such as Ahmed Warsame—may have to be kept in military custody, even if potential charges against the suspect are available only in Federal criminal courts and not military commissions. In sum, mandatory military custody is unwise and will harm our national security.
The letter was sent a day after a mostly party line vote on a Republican amendment adding even more onerous restrictions on detention to an unrelated spending bill. Months ago, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed on a “compromise” in the NDAA that would have mandated military detention for non-citizens suspected of al-Qaeda related terrorism unless the Secretary of Defense explicilty approved a transfer to federal court.
The Obama administration objected, arguing that the provision would interfere with the president’s ability to deal effectively with terrorism, and Reid has been holding up the bill while another compromise is negotiated. In response, Senate Republicans along with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), voted for an amendment put forth by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that was even more restrictive, mandating military detention of suspected non-citizen terrorists with no exceptions. Ayotte’s proposal had previously been voted down in the Armed Services Committee, so the vote was basically a way for the GOP to tell Reid and the administration to go take a hike.
The sad thing is that in the name of being “tougher” on terror, most Republicans and some Democrats have agreed to detention provisions that would actually make it harder neutralize terrorists. It’s pretty much the definition of culture war counterrorism.