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Air Force Structure

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, as a Senator, I have no greater responsibility than to work to ensure our Nation's security. Our Armed Forces must have the tools they need to keep our country safe. That is why I support the vast majority of the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act and why I supported the bill that passed the Senate. I particularly note provisions that increase pay and benefits for our servicemembers and retirees, ensure a drawdown of our troops in Afghanistan, allow female servicemembers access to basic health services if they are victims of sexual assault, and limit the annual increases in TRICARE prescription drug premiums. All of these provisions I support and believe are important.

I oppose this bill because I do not believe it adequately reflects our principles. I believe we can do a better job of protecting our national security without compromising important values than what is contained in this legislation.

This Nation has long been a beacon of liberty and a champion of rights throughout the world. Yet since 9/11, in the name of security, we have repeatedly betrayed our highest values. The past administration believed it could eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant or court order. It utilized interrogation techniques long considered immoral, ineffective, and illegal, regardless of laws and treaties. And, it intentionally sought to put detainees beyond the rule of law. Thankfully, the current administration has ended the worst abuses of these practices, despite the efforts of some of my colleagues to stymie these efforts.

However, I am deeply concerned that the conference report continues us on a dangerous path of sacrificing long-held principles.

To begin, this bill fails to make clear that under no circumstance can an American citizen be detained indefinitely without trial. When the bill was considered in the Senate, I was proud to join 66 of my colleagues in supporting an amendment, authored by Senator Feinstein, which sought to clarify that the law does not authorize the President to indefinitely detain an American seized in the United States and indefinitely detain them without charges and without due process. I am heartened that President Obama has made clear he will not attempt to exercise such power, but I am greatly disappointed that the conference report omitted this language.

Moreover, the bill would make it much more difficult to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. There simply is no compelling reason to keep the facility open and not to bring these detainees to maximum security facilities within the United States. The detention center has been, and continues to be, a stain on our Nation's honor. I agree with former Secretary of State Colin Powell who said ``we have shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system by keeping [the detention center at Guantanamo Bay] open. We don't need it and it's causing us far more damage than any good we get for it.''

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration declared a broad and open-ended ``war on terror.'' I have always considered this a flawed description of the challenge that confronted us after the 9/11 attacks. After all, ``terror'' is an endlessly broad and vague term. And a ``war on terror'' is a war that can never end, because terrorism and terrorists will always be with us. Because of the never-ending nature of this so-called ``war on terror,'' it offers a rationale for restricting civil liberties indefinitely. This is not healthy for our democracy or for our ability to inspire other countries to abide by democratic principles.

We will not overcome terrorism with secret prisons, with torture, with degrading treatment, with individuals denied basic rights. Rather, we shall overcome it by staying true to our highest values and by insisting on legal safeguards that are the very basis of our system of government and freedom.


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