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Public Statements

Air Force Structure

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, today, the Senate voted, by voice vote, to approve the conference report to accompany H.R. 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013. As it always does, the NDAA included a number of important provisions, including critical authorizations for our troops in uniform, for essential defense programs to promote and protect our national security both at home and abroad, and for important programs that keep ours the greatest military in the world.

The conference report approved today also includes two important provisions which I was proud to support. The Dale Long Public Safety Officers Benefits Improvements Act will fill a gap in existing law and extend the Federal Public Safety Officers/Benefits program to paramedics and emergency medical technicians who work or volunteer for nonprofit ambulance services, and their families, when they are disabled or killed in the line of duty. And important measures relating to Department of Defense law enforcement officers are also included.

While I am pleased this conference report includes important elements such as these, I remain deeply concerned about several troubling provisions that remain in the law relating to the indefinite detention of individuals without charge or trial and the conference report drops the Senate amendment we adopted to protect against abuses. The indefinite detention and mandatory detention provisions that were enacted in last year's defense authorization bill undermine our Nation's fundamental principles of due process and civil liberties, and I have worked to eliminate or fix these flawed provisions.

Earlier this month, during debate on the Senate bill, we took a positive step toward fixing these flawed provisions by adopting an amendment offered by Senator Feinstein that I supported to clarify that our government cannot detain indefinitely any citizen or legal permanent resident apprehended in the United States. More than two-thirds of the Senate voted in favor of this amendment, and I viewed this as a constructive part of our efforts to undo some of the damage from last year's NDAA. During the Senate debate on the detention provisions this year, I stated again my belief that the vital protections of our Constitution extend to all persons here in the United States, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Nonetheless, I voted for this amendment to affirm that indefinite detention has no place in our justice system.

Inexplicably, however, the Feinstein amendment was stripped from the final bill during conference negotiations between the House and Senate. Despite such broad Senate support for the Feinstein amendment, the conference report no longer expressly reaffirms that U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents in America cannot be detained indefinitely without charge or trial. Instead, we are left with the status quo of restrictions and prohibitions on the transfer of detainees that leaves us no closer to closing the detention facility at Guantanamo once and for all.

I have repeatedly said that I am fundamentally opposed to indefinite detention without charge or trial. I fought against the Bush administration policies that led to the current situation, with indefinite detention as the de facto policy. I opposed President Obama's executive order in March 2011 that contemplated indefinite detention, and I helped lead the efforts against the detention-related provisions in last year's NDAA. A policy of indefinite detention has no place in the justice system of any democracy--let alone the greatest democracy in the world.

The American justice system is the envy of the world, and a regime of indefinite detention diminishes the credibility of this great Nation around the globe, particularly when we criticize other governments for engaging in such conduct, and as new governments in the midst of establishing legal systems look to us as a model of justice. Indefinite detention contradicts the most basic principles of law that I have pledged to uphold since my years as a prosecutor and in our senatorial oath to defend the Constitution. That is why I have opposed and will continue to oppose indefinite detention.

In addition to failing to rectify the indefinite detention provisions from last year's NDAA in the conference report, I also continue to be deeply disturbed by the mandatory military detention provisions that were included in last year's NDAA through Section 1022. In the fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist threats, we should give our intelligence, military, and law enforcement professionals all the tools they need. These limitations abandon our full arsenal of powers. I remain concerned that the mandatory military detention requirements are overly broad and threaten core constitutional principles. Once sacrificed, our treasured constitutional protections are not easily restored. After all, the policy directive of this President can be undone by a future administration.

I find the detention provisions enacted through last year's NDAA and the failure to fix them this year deeply troublesome. I am also concerned about the extension of overly burdensome restrictions and conditions on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo, even those who have already been found to have had no connection to terrorism. These provisions do not represent Vermont values, they do not represent American values, and they have no place in this world. As a result of the failure of the conferees to seriously address these fundamental wrongdoings and support the principles of our Constitution, I am unable to support final passage of this year's NDAA. Moving forward, as I did last year, I hope to foster a broader discussion about these issues and work to make concrete changes to protect American values and champion the rule of law. We need a bipartisan effort to guarantee that the United States remains the model for the rule of law to the world.

There is one additional provision that has been excluded from this conference report that is of concern to me and a number of Senators and Congressmen. Both the House and Senate approved in their defense authorization bills language to freeze Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve manpower and force structure in the wake of the Air Force's announced intention to disproportionately target the National Guard as it prepared for Budget Control Act cuts. I joined Senator Graham, Representative Hunter and Representative Walz in leading a letter to the conferees signed by 87 members of Congress in support of continuing the freeze and preserving the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force which was included in the Senate-passed Defense Authorization Act.

I was surprised to see that the conferees rewrote these provisions, instead adopting in this conference report an Air Force proposal that had been neither reviewed nor debated by either chamber. While the final conference report does preserve the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force, I believe it does not go far enough to protect the fundamental needs and strength of our Air National Guard.

I will continue to work with others here in Congress who believe, as I do, that the Guard represents much of what is best about our country's military.

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