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New law could allow indefinite detention of citizens

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 12/16/2011, 11:03 a.m.

The Fifth Amendment might be the latest victim of the war on terror.

A recently drafted Pentagon spending bill (Senate Bill 1867-The National Defense Authorization Act) would deny suspected terrorists, including American citizens seized within U.S. borders, the right to a trial and would subject them to indefinite detention.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the $662 billion bill if it stays in its current form.

Sens. Carl Levin and John McCain, who were members of the "Big Four" committee that included House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon and House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith, believe that this law gives the military the legal authority necessary to fight the war on terrorism. To them, the law makes sense.

McCain confirmed this when he spoke with reporters last week in Washington.

"There's a fundamental principle, in that we don't want to criminalize a national security issue," McCain said. "Any enemy combatant is an enemy combatant."

Although the Senate did agree to amend the bill to emphasize that its intent is not to detain American citizens without changing the military's right to custody, the detention provisions raise questions about the legal concepts and principals upon which the United States is supposedly founded. This includes the habeas corpus right to contest being jailed and the post-Civil War Posse Comitatus Act, which limits the military's role in local law enforcement.

Under the law, the homes of American citizens wouldn't be off-limits to the American armed forces. And one of the provisions of the bill, Section 1031, states that there would be no limitations based on geography, duration or citizenship.

"This country is special because we have certain values, and due process of law is one of those values," said Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She objected to the detention aspects of the bill. "I object to holding American citizens without trial. I do not believe that makes us more safe."