Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) today introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would protect American citizens from being indefinitely detained. The bipartisan amendment, cosponsored by several other senators, uses essentially the same language as the Due Process Guarantee Act, which Feinstein and Lee introduced last year.
The language of the amendment assures that no authorization to use military force, war declaration or any similar authority would allow an American apprehended in the United States to be held without charge or trial.
During a discussion of their amendment on the Senate floor today, Feinstein said: "I want to be very clear about what this amendment is and what it's not about. It's not about whether citizens such as [Yaser Esam] Hamdi and [Jose] Padilla or others who would do us harm should be captured, interrogated, incarcerated and severely punished. They should be. But what about an innocent American? What about someone in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong skin color?
"The beauty of our Constitution is that it gives everyone in the United States basic due process rights to a trial by a jury of their peers. That is what makes this nation great. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the plurality in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, "[A]s critical as the government's interest may be in detaining those who actually pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States during ongoing international conflict, history and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat.'
"The federal government experimented with indefinite detention of United States citizens during World War II, a mistake we now recognize as a betrayal of our core values. Let's not repeat it."
Lee said: "Senator Feinstein and I have worked closely together over the course of the past year to craft what we believe represents a very prudent course in protecting both our nation and our liberties at the same time. Security is important, and precisely because it's important, it must not be acquired at the expense of our individual liberty. It may well be said that government's most important basic responsibility is to protect the liberties of its citizens. Our nation has fought wars on American soil and around the world in defense of individual liberty. And we must not sacrifice this most fundamental right in pursuit of greater security, especially when we can achieve security without compromising liberty. The Feinstein-Lee amendment does precisely that.
"We must stand behind our 225-year-old founding document as it's been amended to ensure our liberty isn't taken away from us, to give us a path to providing for our security without jeopardizing the freedom that our American citizens cherish so much and have fought so hard and so long to protect. Granting the United States government the power to deprive its own citizens of life, liberty, or property without full due process of law goes against the very nature of our nation's great constitutional values. This amendment, the Feinstein-Lee amendment, protects those values."
The amendment is also sponsored by Senators Paul (R-Ky.), Coons (D-Del.), Collins (R-Maine), Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kirk (D-Ill.), Tester (D-Mont.), Johnson (D-S.D.), Sanders (I-Vt.), Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Baucus (D-Mont.) and Heller (R-Nev.).