WASHINGTON, June 14, 2013 ― Despite the efforts of Libety Republicans in the House of Representatives, an amendment to the 2014 NDAA bill that would have prohibited the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without due process was defeated by a narrow margin today.
When the 2012 version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed, it included the controversial provision to permit the indefinite detention of United States citizens without charges. The controversy over indefinite detention was an issue in the election and likely contributed to the defeat of some Tea Party Republicans like Allen West, whose denial of the existence of indefinite detention and support for the NDAA was seen as a betrayal of the grassroots voters who put them in office.
Indefinite detention remains in effect, but this week an effort was made to fix the problem with the Smith-Gibson amendment to the 2014 NDAA act. This bi-partisan amendment, sponsored by Republican Chris Gibson of New York and Democrat Adam Smith of Washington, would have guaranteed any detainee a trial and prohibited the transfer of anyone arrested in the United States to military custody.
As happened with the substantially similar Smith-Amash amendment last year, this effort failed by a close 226 to 200 vote on the floor of the House. The House Armed Services Committee and House GOP leadership urged Republican representatives to vote “no.” Despite that pressure, many of the more libertarian Republicans in the House voted for the amendment, including recently elected representatives Thomas Massie, Mark Sanford, Kerry Bentivolio and Ted Yoho, who were all endorsed by the Republican Liberty Caucus. Notably absent from the list were two long-time RLC endorsees, Dana Rohrabacher of California, and Steve Stockman from Texas.
Republican Liberty Caucus of Texas Chairman Jeffrey Larson commented that “Rep. Steve Stockman has always been a champion of liberty, and I was surprised to find his name missing from the list of those who voted YES to the Smith-Gibson Amendment to the NDAA. I am confident Steve will continue to support the rights of the People on other key issues.”
Two weaker admendments addressing indefinite detention did pass. An amendment from Republican Trey Radel that would require the Department of Defense to report on detainees and provide legal justification for their detention passed on a voice vote. Another amendment from Virginia’s Bob Goodlatte that would require the government to provide definitive evidence that a detainee was an enemy combatant also passed by a very narrow margin on mostly Republican support.
The NDAA bill itself passed with Stockman and Rohrabacher joining a large minority voting against it, but voting it down would not have ended indefinite detention, because the provision was approved in the 2012 version of the bill and remains in effect unless it is specifically reversed. A vote for the amendment would have sent a significant message on this important civil liberties issue.
The failure of the amendment will guarantee that the issue of indefinite detention is held over and will play a role in the 2014 congressional elections. This may be bad news for incumbent Republicans, an unprecedented number of whom are facing serious primary challenges, but possibly less so for the party as a whole, as those challengers will be more effective against the Democrats in November of next year.
As the Republican party establishment continues to make mistakes like pushing back against opposition to bad policy, they strengthen and legitimize opposition within the party and accelerate the process of change which will make the GOP a very different party by 2016.
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