Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has sent a terrific letter to his fellow Senators Carl Levin and John McCain on the Armed Services Committee explaining why he won't be bringing the Committee's reported version of the National Defense Authorization Act to the Senate floor for a vote until a few particularly troublesome provisions are removed.
Reid singled out "the authorization of indefinite detention in Section 1031, the requirement for mandatory military custody of terrorism suspects in Section 1032, and the stringent restrictions on transfer of detainees in Section 1033" as reasons he cannot support the defense spending bill.
"I strongly believe that we must maintain the capability and flexibility to effectively apply the full range of tools at our disposal to combat terrorism," wrote Reid in the letter. "This includes the use of our criminal justice system, which has accumulated an impressive record of success in bringing terrorists to justice. Limitations on that flexibility, or on the availability of critical counterterrorism tools, would significantly threaten our national security."
Reid quoted Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, who warned in a recent speech that the Armed Services Committee's bill would "impose unprecedented restrictions on the ability of experienced professionals to combat terrorism, injecting legal and operational uncertainty into what is already enormously complicated work."
Human Rights First has been making that same argument for some time now. As I wrote in an op-ed published in Politico today, this would be the first bill authorizing military detention of suspected insurgents since the McCarthy era, when Congress passed the Internal Security Act to allow the government to indefinitely detain suspected Communists.
If the Committee's bill became law, military detention would actually be required for all suspects who are not U.S. citizens, which could cut the FBI -- our best-trained experts on investigating international terrorism -- out of these critical cases. It would also make it far more difficult to prosecute terrorists later.
"I strongly believe that we must maintain the capability and flexibility to effectively apply the full range of tools at our disposal to combat terrorism," Reid wrote in his letter yesterday, adding that the detention-related provisions in the bill "would significantly threaten our national security."
Fortunately, Senator Reid's leadership on this issue may effectively thwart that threat.