On Tuesday, Congress dropped an amendment from the National Defense Authorization Act for 2013 that was designed to protect American citizens from indefinite detention by the military without trial or charge.
The stripped amendment, authored by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., had been added to the defense spending bill two weeks ago. Human rights advocates viewed it as a check on the government’s current authority to indefinitely detain–without habeas corpus or due process–American citizens who commit a “belligerent act” against the United States until the period of hostilities ends.
When President Obama signed the 2012 NDAA into law on December 31, 2011, he condemned the powers given to him under the controversial section 1021:
[M]y Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.
However, since then his administration has defended the authority granted by section 1021, even when a U.S. district judge ruled it unconstitutional. The judge found that it left intellectuals, activists, and journalists vulnerable to detention for exercising First Amendment rights.
In late November, Sen. Feinstein’s amendment, co-sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., passed the Senate 67-29 with the support of 20 Republicans. The amendment stated that:
An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.
On Tuesday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., reported that participants in the House-Senate conference on the bill decided to drop the amendment. ”Basically, I won’t interpret that any further,” Levin told Politico.