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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 - Conference Report

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PAUL. Mr. President, I rise in opposition to this bill because I believe it contains language that would allow American citizens to be detained without trial. The other side has argued that is not true, that they will be eligible for their constitutional rights if they get into an article III court or a constitutional court. But here is the rub: They have to be eligible. Who decides whether someone is eligible for the court? It is an arbitrary decision, and this is what this debate has been over. Don't let the wool be pulled over your eyes that everyone has protection and they will get a trial by jury if accused of a crime.

We had protection in this bill. We passed an amendment that specifically said: If you are an American citizen or here legally in the country, you will get a trial by jury. It was explicitly stated and it has been removed in the conference committee. It has been removed because they want the ability to hold American citizens without trial in our country. This is so fundamentally wrong and goes against everything we stand for as a country that it cannot go unnoticed and should be pointed out.

Proponents of indefinite detention without trial say that an accusation alone is sufficient, that these crimes are so heinous that trials are unnecessary. They will show us pictures of foreigners in foreign dress from foreign lands and say that is what this debate is about. It is untrue. This debate is about American citizens accused of crimes in the United States.

Make no mistake that the faces of terrorism include awful people who should be punished to the full extent of the law. The same portrait of evil could be drawn of domestic terrorists, domestic terror, and domestic violence. One could parade pictures of Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh--the Oklahoma bomber--Jeffrey Dahmer, and people would cry out that they don't deserve a trial either. Most Americans understand at some level that when someone is accused of a crime in our country, they get a trial by a jury of their peers. No matter how heinous the crime is or how awful they are, we give them a trial. This bill takes away that right and says if someone thinks a person is dangerous, we will hold that person without a trial. It is an abomination. It should not stand. Most Americans understand that if someone is accused of a crime, it does not make them guilty of a crime. They will still get their day in court.

Some here may not care when they determine that they are going to detain Ahmed or Yousef or Ibrahim. Many innocent Americans are named Ahmed or Yousef or Ibrahim. Many Americans are named Saul or David or Isaac. Is our memory so short that we don't understand the danger of allowing detention without trial? Is our memory so short that we don't understand the havoc that bias and bigotry can do when unrestrained by the law? Trial by jury is our last defense against tyranny and our last defense against oppression. We have locked up Arabs, Jews, and the Japanese.

Do we not want to retain our right to trial by jury? Do we want to allow the whims of government to come forward and lock up whom they please without being tried? In our not-too-distant past Americans named Ozaki, Ichiro, or Yuki were indefinitely detained by the tens of thousands without trial or accusation. Will America only begin to regret our loss of trial by jury when the people have names such as Smith and Jones? Mark my words: This is about people named Smith and Jones or people named David, Saul, Isaac, Ahmed, Yousef, or Ibrahim. This is about all Americans and whether they will have due process and the protections of the law.

We are told these people are so evil and so dangerous that we cannot allow trials. Trial by jury is who we are. Trial by jury is that shining beacon on a hill that people around the world wish to emulate. It is why people came here. It is why we are exceptional as a people. It is not the color of our skin; it is our ideas, it is the right to trial by jury that is looked to as a beacon of hope for people around the world, and we are willing to discard it out of fear. It is a shame to scrap the very rights that make us exceptional as a people.

Proponents of indefinite detention will argue that we are a good people and we will never unjustly detain people. I don't dispute their intentions or impute bad motives to them, but what I will say is remember what Madison said. Madison said if a government were comprised of angels, we would not need the chains of the Constitution. We would not need to bind our representatives and restrain them from doing bad things to good people. If all men in government were angels, we would not need the rules. All men in the government are not angels now and never will be. There is always the danger that some day someone will be elected who will take the rights away from the Japanese, Jews, or Arabs. It happened once. We are told by these people who believe in indefinite detention that the battle is everywhere. If the battle is everywhere, our liberties are nowhere. If the battle is without end, when will they return our liberties? When will our rights be restored if the battle has no end and the battlefield is limitless and the war is endless? When will our rights be restored? It is not a temporary or limited suspension of our right to trial by jury but an unlimited, unbounded relinquishment of the right to trial by jury without length or duration.

We are told that limiting the right to trial by jury is justified under the law of war. Am I the only one uncomfortable applying the law of war to American citizens accused of crimes in the United States? Is the law of war a euphemism for martial law? What is the law of war except for something to go around the Constitution? It is an extraordinary circumstance that might happen in a battlefield somewhere else but should not happen in the United States. Every American accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, should get their day in court and a trial by a jury of their peers. These are not idle questions.

I believe the defense of the Bill of Rights trumps the concerns for speedy passage even of a bill which I generally support. Sixty-seven Senators voted just a few weeks ago to include a provision in this bill that says we have a right to a trial by jury. It was plucked out in secret in conference despite the wishes of two-thirds of the Senators in this body--Republican and Democrat--who were concerned about protecting the right to a jury trial.

Many Senators say: Well, we tried and we lost. They outmaneuvered us; they were sneakier than we were. I disagree that we give up. I think the time is now. I think we make a statement. The fight is today. The subject is too dear. If a majority today were to stand and say: The right to trial by jury is important enough to delay the Defense authorization bill for 2 weeks, I think it would be an important message to send.

So today I stand and urge a ``no'' vote on what I consider to be a travesty of justice.

Thank you.


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