Detainee policy gone horribly awry

The White House, the Pentagon, the FBI, the CIA, and the director of national intelligence, and the head of the Justice Department’s national security division all told senators the same thing: yesterday’s Senate vote on indefinite detention was a bad idea.

It didn’t matter. Dahlia Lithwick explained:

On Tuesday 60 members of the United States Senate voted to preserve a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act — that would be the bill that funds the Pentagon — allowing the U.S. military to pick up and detain, without charges or trial, anyone suspected of terrorism, including American citizens, and to restrict transfers of prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay. Specifically, 60 senators voted against an amendment that would have invalidated the part of the bill which empowers the president and the military to detain anyone they suspect was involved in the 9/11 attacks or supports al-Qaida, the Taliban, or “associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

President Obama has said he will veto the larger bill if the detainee provision remains intact, but that hasn’t been enough to sway the Senate.

Just 38 senators did the right thing when the measure reached the Senate floor. One of them was Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who explained to his colleagues just how significant this step is.

” [W]hat we are talking about here is that Americans could be subjected to life imprisonment. Think about that for a minute. Life imprisonment. Without ever being charged, tried, or convicted of a crime. Without ever having an opportunity to prove your innocence to a judge or a jury of your peers. And without the government ever having to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I think that denigrates the very foundations of this country.”

For more on this, I’d encourage folks to check out Adam Serwer, whose day-to-day coverage of this fight has been terrific.