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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. I thank the distinguished manager of the bill, and I say to the distinguished senior Senator from Illinois, who is here, I will try to be relatively brief. But I would also say that seldom do we get an opportunity on the floor of the Senate to debate what is fundamental to this American democracy. In a sense, I am pleased this issue has now been aired publicly because I think we can address it directly.

Senator Durbin, I also want to thank your colleague, the junior Senator from Illinois, Senator Kirk, for his cosponsorship of this amendment.

The fact of the matter is, the original draft of this defense bill had this language in it:

The authority to detain a person under this section does not extend to the detention of citizens or lawful resident aliens of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place in the United States except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.

That was removed from the bill. Essentially, what we are trying to do is put back in that you cannot indefinitely detain a citizen--just a citizen--of the United States without trial. Due process is a basic right of this democracy. It is given to us because we are citizens of the United States. And due process requires that we not authorize indefinite detention of our citizens.

Where I profoundly disagree with the very distinguished chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee is by saying that Ex parte Quirin established the law for U.S. citizens in this area that still holds. It does not. I went to the Hamdi opinion, and I wish to read some of the plurality opinion as written by Justice O'Connor. This first quote is from page 23 of her opinion.

As 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.

Continuing on page 24:

We reaffirm today the fundamental nature of a citizen's right to be free from involuntary confinement by his own government without due process of law, and we weigh the opposing governmental interests against the curtailment of liberty that such confinement entails.

It then goes on, referring to the Hamdi case, on page 26:

We therefore hold that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government's factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker.

Then to quote from Justice Scalia's opinion, which is important commentary on the 1942 case Ex parte Quirin, he says:

The government argues that our more recent jurisprudence ratifies its indefinite imprisonment of a citizen within the territorial jurisdiction of Federal courts. It places primary reliance on Ex parte Quirin, a World War II case upholding the trial by military commission of eight German saboteurs, one of whom, Hans Haupt, was a U.S. citizen.

Justice Scalia concludes:

This case was not this Court's finest hour.

Mr. President, the difference today is that we as a Congress are being asked, for the first time certainly since I have been in this body--and I believe since the senior Senator from Illinois has been in this body--to affirmatively authorize that an American citizen can be picked up and held indefinitely without being charged or tried. That is a very big deal, because in 1971 we passed a law that said you cannot do this. This was after the internment of Japanese-American citizens in World War II. It took that long, until 1971, when Richard Nixon signed the Non-Detention Act, and that law has never been violated.

The Quirin case was not about whether a U.S. citizen captured during wartime could be held indefinitely, but rather whether such an individual could be held in detention pending trial by military commission. The recent case of an American put into military custody, of course, was Jose

Padilla, and there was a good deal of controversy over the years about his case. He was ultimately transferred out of military custody, tried and convicted in a civilian court.

What we are talking about here--and I am very pleased Senator Kirk and Senator Lee have joined us as cosponsors in this--is the right of our government, as specifically authorized in a law by Congress, to say that a citizen of the United States can be arrested and essentially held without trial forever.

The hypothetical example that has been offered by the Senator from Arizona, the ranking member of the committee, is: Would we want someone who is an American--who is planning to kill our people, bomb our buildings--not to be held indefinitely under the laws of war? I believe it is a different situation when it comes to American citizens. What if it is an innocent American we are talking about? What if it is someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? The beauty of our Constitution and our law is it gives every citizen the right of review--review by a court, and this is what the Hamdi decision is all about. The defense bill on the floor, as written, would take us a step backward. The bill, as written, would say an American citizen can be picked up, can be held for the length of hostilities--is that 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, 30 years--without a trial. I say that is wrong. I say that is not the way this democracy was set up. And I also say that is totally unnecessary because our federal courts work well to prosecute terrorists. We can go back to the Shoe Bomber, as a case in point. We can go back to Abdulmutallab as a case in point. We can go back to the record of the Federal courts prosecuting over 400 terrorists since 9/11.
I want to thank Senator Durbin for his interest in this issue and his cosponsorship of this amendment. It is very much appreciated. I don't know whether we can win this, but I think it is very important that we try and I know we are getting more and more support as people learn more about what this bill does. I think it is very important that we build a record in this body, because I have no doubt this is going to be litigated. I hope we are successful with this amendment. I hope we can protect the rights of Americans.

Mr. President, as we have occasion to look at people in Guantanamo, we know there are people there who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. If they are going to be held forever, that is a mistake, and we don't want the same thing to happen to American citizens in this country.

This is another example of how we are over-militarizing things that aren't broken. As I have said previously here on the floor, I don't see a need for the military to go around arresting Americans. The national security division of the FBI now has some 10,000 people. They have 56 field local offices with special agents who are well equipped to arrest terrorists and also interrogate them. Certainly the Justice Department is equipped to prosecute terrorists in Federal criminal court. The conviction rate and the long sentences achieved shows their success.

I am hopeful we will be able to pass this amendment and change the bill to reflect that Americans are protected from permanent detention without trial. That is all we are trying to do.

I thank the Senator from Illinois, I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.


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