Washington: The US Senate has revived a divisive debate over civil liberties and the president`s powers as commander in chief, voting that American citizens suspected of terrorism and seized on US soil may not be held indefinitely.
Ignoring a White House veto threat, a coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans backed an amendment to a sweeping defense bill that said the government cannot detain a US citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial, even with the authorisation to use military force or a declaration of war.
The strong bipartisan approval late yesterday sets up a fight with the House of Representatives, which rejected efforts to bar indefinite detention when it passed its bill in May.
Current law denies suspected terrorists, including US citizens seized within the nation`s borders, the right to trial and subjects them to the possibility they would be held indefinitely. It reaffirms the post-September 11 authorisation for the use of military force that allows indefinite detention of enemy combatants.
That generated a conservative backlash as well as outrage among civil liberties groups.
In arguing for her amendment, Sen Dianne Feinstein recalled the dark days of World War II when the United States forcibly removed thousands of Japanese-Americans and placed them in permanent internment camps amid unfounded fears that they were spies and national security threats.
Lawmakers also approved an amendment that would prevent the transfer of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to prisons in the United States.
Sen Kelly Ayotte argued that the 166 terror suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-styled mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, should remain at the US naval facility and not be transferred to any facility on American soil.
The administration, in threatening to veto the bill, strongly objected to a provision restricting the president`s authority to transfer terror suspects from Guantanamo to foreign countries. The provision is in current law.
The USD 631 billion defense policy bill for next year authorises money for weapons, ships, aircraft and a 1.7 per cent pay raise for military personnel. The total is USD 4 billion less than the House-passed bill, and House-Senate negotiators will have to work out the difference in the closing days of this year.
The Senate also unanimously approved today a new package of tough sanctions on Iran targeting the Islamic Republic`s energy, port, shipping and ship-building sectors as entities of proliferation. It marked the third time in less than a year that Congress has hit Iran with punitive measures designed to cripple its economy and thwart Tehran`s nuclear ambitions.