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Congress reaffirms indefinite detention of Americans under NDAA

Published time: May 22, 2014 18:26
Camp Delta prison, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

Camp Delta prison, at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base (Reuters / Brennan Linsley)

The US House of Representatives approved an annual defense spending bill early Thursday after rejecting a proposed amendment that would have prevented the United States government from indefinitely detaining American citizens.

An amendment introduced in the House on Wednesday this week asked that Congress repeal a controversial provision placed in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that has ever since provided the executive branch with the power to arrest and detain indefinitely any US citizen thought to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda or associated organizations.

“This amendment would eliminate indefinite detention in the United States and its territories,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), a co-author of the failed amendment, said during floor debate on Wednesday, “So basically anybody that we captured, who we suspected of terrorist activity, would no longer be subject to indefinite detention, as is now, currently, the law.”

"That is an enormous amount of power to give the executive, to take someone and lock them up without due process," Smith added. "It is an enormous amount of power to grant the executive, and I believe places liberty and freedom at risk in this country."

Pres. Barack Obama vowed when he signed the 2012 NDAA into law on December 31, 2011 that he would not use the indefinite detention powers provided to him by Congress. When that provision was challenged in federal court, however, the White House fought back adamantly and appealed a District Court ruling that initially reversed the indefinite detention clause, eventually sending the challenge to the Supreme Court where it stalled until earlier this month with the justices there said they would not consider the case.

The bill sponsored by Smith and co-author Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) would have given the legislative branch a chance to repeal the same provisions that SCOTUS declined to hear, but the bipartisan amendment failed on a vote of 191 to 230.

A separate proposal from Rep. Smith meant to expedite the shut-down of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was also rejected early Thursday; an amendment from Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Florida) intended to cut federal funding for recreational facilities at Gitmo, however, was approved in the NDAA draft that left the House on Thursday.

On Twitter, Smith said he was “disappointed” but “won’t stop fighting to pass this critical legislation.”

And while the White House is unlikely to abandon its own fight with regards to keep the indefinite detention provision intact, the Obama administration threatened to vote this year’s NDAA because it would continue to complicate the president’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay facility — a vow older than his own administration.

"If this year's Defense Authorization bill continues unwarranted restrictions regarding Guantanamo detainees, the president will veto the bill," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Wednesday evening.

When the 2011 NDAA passed Congress with the controversial indefinite detention provision included, the White House said at the time that it would veto the legislation before Pres. Obama eventually balked.

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