Monday night's Republican primary debate in Utah's U.S. Senate race sparked an interesting disagreement over the National Defense Authorization Act, a part of which allows for the indefinite detention without trial of suspected terrorists, and even American citizens.
Orrin Hatch, a six-term senator seeking re-election, faces former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist and former state Rep. Chris Herrod in a three-way primary. The Salt Lake Tribune reported on the exchange:
Hatch voted for the authorization and said the legislation just codified what has been existing law and would not suspend habeas corpus, which prevents a person from being imprisoned without sufficient cause or evidence.
"Our rights are protected," said Hatch, drawing some boos from the audience.
Liljenquist disagreed with Hatch and said the law could be used by police to detain citizens without charges. "It should cause us all concern" he said. "It is what they do in China and what Pinochet did and King George. ...The Bill of Rights allows us to face our accuser because of habeas corpus. We are innocent until proven guilty."
Herrod then said he had problems with the law and spoke about working in the former Soviet Union and hearing about the Gulag, according to the Tribune.
A similar intraparty debate ensued earlier in the Republican presidential primary. In a January GOP debate, Mitt Romney said he supported the legislation -- despite saying that he disagreed with President Barack Obama on most matters -- and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) opposed it. Romney, too, was booed over his support for the bill.
Some lawmakers are seeking to alter or eliminate the indefinite detention provision. The Associated Press recently reported that Republicans and Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee were weighing various changes to the provision, and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) have already offered a bill repealing it.
The provision includes language that says nothing in the law may be "construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States."
The Obama administration has said that it will not enforce the rule on American citizens. When Obama signed the bill he said in a signing statement that his administration would not authorize the indefinite detention provision with respect to American citizens. The administration further outlined new rules in February exempting U.S. citizens and other categories of suspected terrorists from the law. However, the law is still on the books for a future administration.
Utah has a quirky nominating system, with Hatch needing at least 60 percent of the 4,000 delegates expected to vote at Saturday's GOP convention to avoid a primary. The longtime senator has spent over $5 million since early 2011 to defend his seat.