The detainee wars are heating up on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers seeking once again to restrict where detainees can be tried and when they can be released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But calls for the military detention of terrorism suspects captured in the United States are also gaining some traction.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is seeking to mandate military detention for al-Qaeda suspects who are apprehended on U.S. soil. The panel’s endorsement of the provision comes as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is pushing the administration to transfer to Guantanamo two Iraqi nationals who were recently arrested in his home state and indicted for allegedly plotting to send munitions to Iraq for use against U.S. troops.
The Obama administration has repeatedly railed against attempts to force the prosecution of terrorism suspects in military tribunals, regardless of where a suspect has been detained. In an address last week to the American Constitution Society, Attorney General Eric Holder noted that hundreds of individuals have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses in civilian courts.
“Every single suspected terrorist captured on American soil — before and after the September 11th attacks — has first been taken into custody by law enforcement, not the United States military,” Holder said. “Our criminal justice system has proven — time and again — that it provides all the authority and flexibility we need to effectively combat terrorist threats.”
The Senate action, as first reported by the New York Times, could force a confrontation with the administration if it survives a floor vote. The measure would require the military to detain any member of al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda affiliate suspected of having participated in the planning or execution of an attack on the United States. The secretary of defense would be permitted to transfer the suspect to the civilian justice system if doing so is deemed to be in the interest of national security.
The proposed measure is only one of a host of detainee provisions in the Defense Authorization Act that could draw the opposition of the White House.
Already, the administration has balked at the version approved by the House Appropriations Committee, which would extend restrictions on transfers from Guantanamo Bay. The White House said provisions in that bill would “interfere with the authority” of the executive branch.