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Senate Armed Services Committee Says "No" to Worldwide War; Overreaches on Indefinite Detention

Sam Milgrom,
Washington Legislative Office
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July 6, 2011

Hooray! With your help, we prevented the Senate from authorizing the president to engage in worldwide war.

For months, we have been pushing to prevent Congress from passing legislation that would give this president (and any of his successors) the authority to engage our country in a worldwide war without a defined enemy.

A couple of weeks ago, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 (NDAA), H.R. 1253. The committee recently released the official language — and the worldwide war authority provision was nowhere to be found!

We can take only a moment to pat ourselves on the back because the fight is far from over. We now need to turn our attention to the devastating indefinite detention provisions that the committee did include in the bill.

These provisions are inconsistent with fundamental American values embodied in the Constitution and in this country’s adherence to the rule of law.

If enacted, the provisions could:

  • authorize the federal government to imprison indefinitely without charge or trial civilians — including American citizens— apprehended both inside and outside the United States, including individuals who had no role in the 9/11 attacks or any actual hostilities (the bill would mark the first time since 1950 that Congress explicitly authorizes the detention without charge or trial of American citizens)
  • mandate military detention of some civilians who would otherwise be outside of military control, including civilian suspects apprehended within the United States itself
  • transfer to the Department of Defense core prosecutorial and investigative responsibilities now held by the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Marshals Service, as well as by the state attorneys general of the 50 states.

These provisions could significantly cut back on the historic protections provided to American citizens by the Non-Detention Act of 1971 and to all U.S. residents by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. To ensure that Congress adheres to the laws of our nation’s Constitution, it is of the utmost importance that the proper committee presides over such critical national security decisions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, not the Senate Armed Services Committee, has jurisdiction over whether state and federal civilian law enforcement will continue to have authority over civilian suspects who are not otherwise under military control, and over whether the military may carry out the domestic law enforcement function of detaining civilian suspects picked up within the United States. Therefore, we are encouraging the Senate Judiciary Committee to assert its jurisdiction and prevent military control over what should be federal, state and local law enforcement decisions.

Last Friday we sent this letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them to assert their jurisdiction over these issues. Please join our efforts and take action. We saw great success on the worldwide war provision earlier this summer and we need your help again. Urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on these provisions, and to assert its jurisdiction to markup sections 1031, 1032, and 1036 before the NDAA goes to the Senate floor.

And check back here for the latest on the NDAA!