After my recent column on “Ten Reasons The U.S. Is No Longer The Land Of The Free,” I ran a response to claims made by Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.) who was the main sponsor of the legislation including the indefinite detention provisions. Levin has now run a letter to the editor in response to my column that I believe is highly misleading and leaves readers with a false impression of both the law and my column.
Here is letter by Sen. Levin this morning:
In his Jan. 15 Outlook commentary, “Ten reasons we’re no longer the land of the free,” Jonathan Turley mischaracterized a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 that reaffirms the authority of the military to detain individuals who join al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces, and who attack the United States.
Mr. Turley disputed the Obama administration, which said that, with regard to U.S. citizens who fall in that category, “this provision only codified existing law,” i.e., it does not add new law to that issue. But Mr. Turley omitted the language in the act itself, which expressly states that “nothing in this section shall 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.”
Carl Levin, Washington
The writer, a Democrat from Michigan, is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
There are a number of problems with this objection. First, the column that was printed noted that “While Sen. Carl Levin insisted the bill followed existing law “whatever the law is,” the Senate specifically rejected an amendment that would exempt citizens and the Administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal court.”
Second, the language cited by Levin has been ridiculed by civil libertarians as meaningless rhetoric designed to give members political cover after various members denounced the legislation as allowing indefinite detention of citizens. Without repeating the prior analysis, Levin (who assures that the law will be followed “whatever it is”) personally noted that the Administration demanded that there be no exception for citizens from indefinite detention. The provision merely states that nothing in the provisions could be construed to alter Americans’ legal rights. Since the Senate clearly views citizens are not just subject to indefinite detention but even execution without a trial, the change offers nothing but rhetoric to hide the harsh reality.
The fact that the Senate put a clear exemption in the mandatory detention provision for citizens but opted not to simply include the same provision in the discretionary detention provision reinforces this meaning. Moreover, the same Senators who voted to deny any exemption proceeded to vote for this language — clearly indicating that it did not offer such protection for citizens.
Most importantly, Levin and others are seeking to deny the authority that the President just acknowledged in his signing statement. Obama stated “I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.” He does not deny that he has such authority . . . only that he does not intend to use it.
The only thing more disturbing than the provision itself is the effort of members to avoid responsibility for the provision — arguing that the civil liberties community and a wide variety of experts (as well as dozens of members of Congress) simply did not read the bill. The power, he suggests, was not given to the President despite the President’s assurance that he will not use it.
Notably, the earlier version of the column did not quote Levin on this point. I added the language before it went to print because Levin donors sent me a fax sent out by his office advancing this argument. The entire premise of both the early version and published version is that the effort to protect citizens was defeated by the Senate.
As I mentioned earlier, I often agree with Levin. However, the letter continues an effort to suggest to readers that this question is expressly answered in the bill. The clear effort is to dismiss the view of civil libertarians and members as ill-informed and portray the concern over civil liberties as baseless. I am not sure what is worse: exposing citizens to indefinite detention or misleading citizens that they need not be concerned because the Congress has their back.