The Senate rejection of a ban on unlimited detention of U.S. citizens has brought a rare veto by President Obama much closer to reality.
Senators voted down an amendment by Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on Wednesday which would have removed provisions of the pending overall defense authorization bill which allow the U.S. military to capture and imprison civilians — without any charge or trial — including American citizens, anywhere in the world, including on U.S. soil.
The issue of infinite detention now goes to lawmakers who must hammer out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). An annual bill, the overall NDAA authorizes by law the government’s defense and national security activities.
Assuming the provisions which allow infinite detention survive that legislative conference, it will be up to Obama to decide whether to follow through on his threat to veto the final bill over the detainee issues.
The provisions related to infinite detention were written without consulting the Department of Defense or law enforcement, and they could amount to an unprecedented expansion of military power inside the United States, according to Udall and other opponents of the policy.
The issue of detentions has split the traditional unity of Senate Democrats, and resulted in a 60-38 vote to defeat the Udall amendment. Obama has vetoed legislation just twice before so far in his term, and those were much less prominent bills. The current matter, however, would put the president in the politically awkward position of vetoing a major defense bill which had the support of such powerful Democratic allies as Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The margin against the Udall amendment would indicate that Obama and lawmakers opposed to infinite detention would have the votes to sustain a veto.
But despite the defeat of his original amendment, Udall holds out hope that he and other detention opponents could further shape the defense bill in their favor through other potential amendments.
“I’m disappointed that the Senate today ignored the advice of the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the FBI and numerous defense experts and retired military officials and did not pass my amendment,” Udall says. “I’ve opposed these detention provisions from the beginning and voted against them twice because of the potential harm they would do to national security. We still have well over 100 amendments to consider between now and when we finish debate on the overall legislation, and I will be working with my colleagues to craft detention provisions that will prevent a veto of this critically important defense authorization bill.”
YOU CAN WATCH VIDEO OF SEN. UDALL SPEAK OUT AGAINST THE INFINITE DETENTION POLICY HERE:
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade