An amendment to the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would guarantee that no American citizen can be indefinitely detained by the federal government without charges being filed against them.
In 2011, Congress passed the FY 2012 version of the NDAA, which contained a controversial provision that, read broadly, could be used to detain American citizens suspected of terrorism without charges or trial under the 2001 Authorization for Military Force against al-Qaeda. The Lee amendment – which is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of senators, including Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. – would resolve the controversy.
“America should never waiver in vigilantly pursuing those who would commit, or plot to commit, acts of treason against our country. But the federal government should not be allowed to indefinitely imprison any American on the mere accusation of treason without affording them the due process guaranteed by our Constitution,” Lee said in a statement released by his office. “By forbidding the government from detaining Americans without trial absent explicit congressional approval, the Due Process Guarantee amendment strikes the right balance between protecting our security and the civil liberties of each citizen.”
The indefinite detention provision was inserted into the FY 2012 NDAA at the request of the White House, according to then-Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who complied with the administration’s wishes. A Senate amendment, which passed the upper chamber with strong bipartisan support, to clarify the language was dropped during negotiations to resolve differences between the House and Senate’s versions of the FY 2013 NDAA.
“The Constitution does not allow President Obama, or any President, to apprehend an American citizen, arrested on U.S. soil, and detain these citizens indefinitely without a trial,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, another cosponsor of the amendment. “The Due Process Guarantee amendment will prohibit the President’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process.”
“While we must vigorously protect national security by pursuing violent terrorists and preventing acts of terror, we must also ensure our most basic rights as American citizens are protected,” Cruz added.
The Senate is currently debating the FY 2016 version of the NDAA. Votes on amendments will occur over the next few legislative days. The bill passed the House in mid-May by a vote of 269-151.