Political Animal


December 01, 2011 10:00 AM Detainee policy gone horribly awry

By Steve Benen

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.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


  • SYSPROG on December 01, 2011 10:10 AM:

    Which DEMS voted for this? They are TOAST! You should have titled this post 'WHEN FEAR MONGERING WINS'...

  • cal on December 01, 2011 10:11 AM:

    But Obamacare is tyranny.

  • Josef K on December 01, 2011 10:11 AM:

    Legally empowering the Executive Branch to "indefinitely detain" people suspected of "terrorism"? Gee, what could possibly go wrong with that.

    Then again, given how some of the Republican caucus have questionable ties to their party's radical fringe (the sort that make bombs out of fertilizer and leave them near federal buildings), it wouldn't be too far a stretch for officeholders themselves to start vanishing down the same hole. Wonder if that thought occurred to any of this idiots?

  • DAY on December 01, 2011 10:12 AM:

    The former United States of America had something called a "Constitution".

  • Robert on December 01, 2011 10:13 AM:

    That only 38 members of the United States Senate understand that this statutory provision, allowing unlimited detention of US citizens without due process, is grossly at odds with the Bill of Rights, is tragic but, not too surprising. The US Congress has long since become an embarrassment to the people of this country.

  • SYSPROG on December 01, 2011 10:19 AM:

    It was the usual suspects...
    Fifteen Democrats joined all but two Republicans to kill the amendment. Rand Paul and Mark Kirk were the Republicans who voted for the Udall Amendment along with most of the Democrats. Bob Casey (PA.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Herb Kohl (WI), Mary Landrieu (LA.), Carl Levin (MI.), Joe Manchin (WV.), Clair McCaskill (MO.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) were the Democrats who voted with the rest of the Republican Party to kill the amendment. http://www.addictinginfo.org/2011/11/30/us-senate-votes-to-keep-provision-allowing-military-to-lock-up-americans-without-trial-or-being-charged/

  • Peter C on December 01, 2011 10:19 AM:

    The vote is appalling. Fortunately, 60 votes is not enough to override Obama's veto - that requires two-thirds.

  • c u n d gulag on December 01, 2011 10:25 AM:

    Since 9/11, in our New America 2.0, I think they now interpret "Habeas Corpus" as 'Hold 'em 'till they're dead.'

    We now have 'Rule of Fear,' instead of "Rule of Law."


  • sparky on December 01, 2011 10:29 AM:

    This could be a very useful tool for making leaders of OWS or any other anti status quo movement disappear. All it would take would be for someone to claim that these leaders have terrorist connections. What better way to silence the voices of dissent???

    report Tjewsi--how's that for a captcha

  • chi res on December 01, 2011 10:31 AM:

    Might as well just repeal the fourth through eighth amendments.

  • just bill on December 01, 2011 10:34 AM:

    hey, i'm all for this provision, so long as they limit it to those asshats who voted for it.

  • jjm on December 01, 2011 10:39 AM:

    This is perhaps the most shocking thing I've heard come out of our Senate in many many years.

    Which Democrats voted FOR this new power of the executive branch THAT IT DOES NOT EVEN WANT!

  • Danp on December 01, 2011 10:40 AM:

    In an age when people so distrust the federal government, it's astonishing that large numbers of people think they would be inoculated. This is not the time to trust the "common sense" of our elected officials, regardless of which side of the aisle you are on.

  • Gandalf on December 01, 2011 10:52 AM:

    I have to admit that I generally thought that democrats were better and more sane than republicans but this just shows that that is just not true.I'm starting to go with the thinking of throw all the bums out.

  • robert on December 01, 2011 10:58 AM:

    Inouye voted NO!? WTF? He and his people were imprisoned in the same unconstitutional way during WWII. Has he forgotten that!? The mind reels. Let's all send him a "WTF Dan?" email.

  • chopin on December 01, 2011 11:02 AM:

    Do congress critters take the oath to uphold the constitution? If so, can they be impeached or recalled or something on a move this egregious? Or does one have to be the recipient of this law's force to have standing before a court to sue? And if they are never charged with a crime, they have nothing to sue over or the means to do so under this monster bill? I would bet a majority of the supporters of this bill wouldn't hesitate to classify supporters of OWS as enemies of the state. Assholes!!!!!!

  • Grumpy on December 01, 2011 11:04 AM:

    "I think that denigrates the very foundations of this country."

    He's such a funny guy! Remember when he declared the entire 1980s to be the "Al Franken Decade"? What a cut-up!

  • exlibra on December 01, 2011 11:18 AM:

    Thanks, SYSPROG @10:19AM, for the list of traitor Dems. I was pleasantly surprised than neither of mine (Webb and Warner) were on it. One (Warner) thinks he's still an executive and doesn't know how to "play nice with others", and the other (Webb) is a loose cannon, who thinks he's still fighting in Vietnam, or, maybe is still the War secretary for Reagan. Both of them have always been iffy votes for many of the Dem priorities.

  • zandru on December 01, 2011 11:34 AM:

    The Big Deal

    ... outside of the content of the Udall Amendment (Thanks, Tom!!), was that the President threatened to veto the entire DoD funding bill over it.

    This, after months of the librul blogosphere denouncing Obama as an anti-Constitutional tyrant who reveled in the Bush-given powers to spy on, torture, imprison, and assassinate anyone he felt like.

    No question about it - this veto threat is good news for the United States and the President.

  • rrk1 on December 01, 2011 11:35 AM:

    I can't think of anything more damaging to the stability and future of this country than this obscene vote. Those fifteen Democrats who voted to kill this amendment should be recalled, primaried, and never allowed to run again for any office. They have violated their oaths to uphold the Constitution, and betrayed their constituents.

    There is no language harsh enough to condemn these traitors.

    Obama better veto this bill.

    Get rid of the Senate. It is dangerous to the health of this country.

  • zandru on December 01, 2011 11:39 AM:

    re: "(Thanks, Tom!!)"

    I'm sorry - it was his cousin, Mark.

  • SYSPROG on December 01, 2011 11:44 AM:

    exlibra...my 'gals' (Murray and Cantwell) didn't vote 'for' either but then they are pretty reliable AND up here in Seattle we are pretty blue. I'm shocked at Inouye...really shocked. He SHOULD be against it given his history AND he would have been supported NOT to...it had to be one of those 'get to 6o votes' deals they are so fond of in Congress instead of voting their conscious or conviction.

  • G.Kerby on December 01, 2011 12:08 PM:

    Makes me proud to have contributed (again) last week to Sen. Franken.

  • Josef K on December 01, 2011 12:09 PM:

    Could this obscenity even pass constitutional muster?

    What am I saying? With the current panel on the SCOTUS, the majority would concoct opinions supporting televised torture and executions of children.

  • paul on December 01, 2011 12:21 PM:

    I have to admit, there's a part of me that says Obama should announce he's considering signing the bill, that the CIA has provided him with a list of american citizens who may be involved with terrorist activity, and that they will be detained indefinitely while military investigations proceed: "Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor..."

  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 01, 2011 12:31 PM:

    This legislation is necessary for the security of OUR COUNTRY!

    In January of 2013, President Newt Gingrich will take the oath of office and pledge his allegiance to The United Corporations of AmeriKKKa.

    After that, we can look forward to a sustained period of 'law & order'. A few good instances of killing a bunch of the OWS terrorists will eliminate that threat. Everyone who questions our 1000 year republican reich will be deemed a terrorist and be 'disappeared'. And, for good measure, any federal employee who 'disagrees' with President Newt will be sent to exile in some God forsaken place like Wasilla, Alaska.

    In OUR new United Corporations of AmeriKKKa, you will have the right to keep your damn mouth shut if you don't agree with us; you will have the right to any religious belief as long as it is Catholic or Southern Baptist; you will have the right to peaceably assemble as long as no more than 1 of you is assembling; and you will have the right to petition the government for a redress of greviences if you have enough wealth.

    However, all is not without hope. We will continue to assure that we have a freely corporately owned press. We will expand your right to keep and bear any and all firearms provided you are white and only use them to shoot blacks and browns. We will continue to insist on the right to freedom from unreasonable searches for those who live in gated closed communities.

    If you want freedom in our United Corporations of AmeriKKKa, you have to earn it! By being born to parents who are multimillionares or billionares.

  • Anonymous on December 01, 2011 1:29 PM:

    The veto is the escape hatch for the cowardly Democrats. They can use this vote and the override failure to inoculate themselves versus claims of soft on terror.

    Then they will vote to pass the bill without the detention "to support the troops". Total cynicism.

  • ORgone on December 01, 2011 1:33 PM:

    Incarceration is being privitized all over AmeriKKKa. When the 1% saw the numbers of the 99% in the streets being arrested, all they saw was free labor!!!!

    VETO this bill.

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  • Texas Aggie on December 01, 2011 2:54 PM:

    The worst part of this is that when you consider the military's record of incarcerating actual terrorists in Gitmo, you know that the vast majority of the people they pick up will have had nothing at all to do with terrorism. They've released almost all the people who were originally imprisoned in Gitmo with various excuses, all of which boil down to, "It was the wrong person."

    Even the FBI has a very poor batting record when you consider the lawyer in Washington (Oregon?) who was accused of blowing up the train in Spain, the scientist at Los Alamos who was accused of giving bomb plans to the Chinese, the first guy that they accused of sending the anthrax spores that they had to pay boodles of money for a defamation case, and the guy in GA that they were accusing of having placed a bomb that he found. Undoubtedly there are many more that haven't reached the national news, but these are enough to tell you that whenever they suspect someone of terrorism, the odds are good that the suspicions are false.

  • thebewilderness on December 01, 2011 4:15 PM:

    Please pardon my tinfoil hat.
    One of the things that comes up from time to time when the family gets together and the discussion turns to politics is how the military coup is progressing. I would say that when Congress passes laws to codify what the Pentagon is already doing it is coming along briskly.

  • schtick on December 01, 2011 4:55 PM:

    To the people with the lame excuse of "if you don't do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about", tell that to the families of the Jewish people from Nazi Germany.
    The people supporting this type of government are the same people with an American flag in one hand (checking to make sure everyone has a lapel pin with the flag), and the Constitution in the other and they know nothing of what either one stands for. They make me sick.
    Everyone voting against the Udall amendment should be brought up on charges of treason and undermining our Constitution.

  • Aarky on December 01, 2011 4:56 PM:

    One poster mentioned it, but this is so Cheneyesque and so Guantanamo. Over 600 of the "Worst of the worst" have been released because they were innocent all along. but over 100 are still being held indefinitely. Col Larry Wilkerson stated that there were never more than two dozen who were real terrroists and Bush and Cheney knew it. It was all part of their propaganda and now that Guantanamo has plenty of room, make sure you pay me the mandatory $5,000 cash before I denounce my neighbor.

  • stmojo on December 01, 2011 6:00 PM:

    McCaskill disappoints again. I had such high hopes for her, now stuff like this doesn't even surprise me.

  • debby moggio on December 01, 2011 6:29 PM:

    when you have a bill like this, can't you link to a list of who voted how?

    it would be a big help!

  • stmojo on December 01, 2011 9:23 PM:

    debby moggio - check the link in the third paragraph (38 senators)

  • Kyetaka on December 03, 2011 11:28 PM:

    This is so tragic. Our senate has rotted through & is not fit for slop. Every senator who voted to suspend the Constitutional rights of the citizens they are supposed to represent should be impeached. It's time to start over, folks, & get on with the merry work of re-building America.