The U.S. Senate on Thursday crossed a major constitutional line and authorized the American military to arrest and indefinitely detain U.S. citizens within the United States in the war on terror.
The 97-3 vote came after days of bitter debate, where hawkish proponents said the United States was part of a global battlefield where the military should be able to seize any citizen if they were part of a terrorist group attacking America. But opponents, who lost a series of attempts to limit the detention to overseas, said it would be a grave mistake of historic proportions to allow the military to arrest and hold American citizens on US soil without the right to a trial or access to civilian courts.
President Obama has pledged to veto the bill, which next goes to the House. Whether he will do so will come into focus as the 2012 defense spending bill works its way to his desk. The White House issued no statement Thursday.
Senate supporters of domestic military detention said the White House had agreed to the bill's language. But critics, such as Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-CA, whose amendments lost on Thursday, said her proposal to limit the detentions to overseas were the bill's original text on the matter. The bill emerged from the Senate Armed services Committee without a hearing on the military detention provisions.
The Supreme Court, in a recent Guantanamo case, said the military could arrest anyone, anywhere, in the war on terror. But a handful of Democrats and Republicans said the high court's opinion was excessive and unconstitutional.They urged their colleagues to put the Bill of Rights -- which gives every citizen the right to a trial in American courts -- above the urge to expand military arrest powers within the 50 states. They said the country did not do that in two World Wars in the 20th century, and that the nation's current defense and intelligence community did not seek the change in law.