Indefinite Military Detention: Revised Defense Bill Still Gives President Authority To Lock Up Citizens

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
By Paul Martin

Michael McAuliff

WASHINGTON — Congress would give the president ultimate authority to detain American citizens indefinitely in military custody under the final version of a defense bill expected to pass this week.

The National Defense Authorization Act was facing the threat of a presidential veto after the White House complained that it restricted the administration’s ability to fight terrorism and raised “serious and unsettled legal questions.” The conference committee working out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill added and amended several provisions in an attempt to produce legislation that would pass muster with President Barack Obama, who appealed personally for fixes.

But the version released Monday night still contains the authority to indefinitely imprison suspects linked to al Qaeda or associated groups, including citizens captured in the United States.

“We have [in the bill] the authority to detain without charge or trial terrorism suspects,” said Raha Wala, a lawyer with the Law and Security Program of the group Human Rights First. “There aren’t any material changes to the indefinite detention provision,” he said in a conference call organized by the progressive National Security Network.

To try to meet the White House’s concerns, lawmakers shifted the responsibility for granting waivers under the legislation from the Defense Department to the president. They also added language to state that civilian law enforcement retains the authority to investigate and interrogate terrorism suspects, even though the bill requires that those suspects be held by the military.

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