US lawmakers eye rules for terrorism prisoners

Bill centers on provisions requiring al-Qaeda fighters
captured on US soil to be held in military custody
© AFP/File Virginie Montet


WASHINGTON (AFP) – A divided US Senate pressed ahead Friday with a sweeping military spending bill that has drawn a White House veto threat over new rules requiring suspected terrorists to be kept in military custody.

The battle over the $662 billion Defense Authorization legislation centers on provisions requiring al-Qaeda fighters captured on US soil to be held by military, not civilian authorities, which President Barack Obama opposes.

The White House on Thursday issued a blistering — but vaguely worded — denunciation of the proposal, even though it grants the administration the power to waive the restriction on national security grounds.

“This unnecessary, untested, and legally controversial restriction of the president’s authority to defend the nation from terrorist threats would tie the hands of our intelligence and law enforcement professionals,” it said.

Obama’s Democratic allies have said that the White House does not object to military custody for Al-Qaeda members captured overseas, but objects to applying that rule to those caught inside the United States.

“Applying this military custody requirement to individuals inside the United States… would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets,” the White House said.

“Any bill that challenges or constrains the president’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the Nation would prompt the president’s senior advisers to recommend a veto” it said in comments that leave ample room for negotiated changes.

The legislation includes a section that says US citizens or lawful resident aliens are not covered by the military detention rules, but some Democrats have pushed for making that even more explicit.

Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and the top Republican on the panel, Senator John McCain, crafted the new rules as a compromise and pressed Friday for the legislation’s quick approval.

Levin accused the White House of “incorrect and misleading” remarks about the legislation and warned that “to misstate it, or overstate it, or to mischaracterize what is in our bill confuses” the issue.

“The detainee issue is one that is of transcendent importance. It certainly goes beyond just national security, it’s a very controversial issue with the American people and members on both sides of the aisle,” said McCain.

“On one side of the aisle they would like to see much more restrictive policies, and on the other side of the aisle there is a very serious concern, and a legitimate concern, although I don’t share it, about erosion of the constitutional rights and liberties of American citizens,” said McCain.

The legislation, whose detainee provisions are far less restrictive than its House of Representatives counterpart, will not face a final Senate vote before lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving holiday the week of November 28.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license

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