On March 9, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced legislation that attempts to curb concerns over the detention policies in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA). In unveiling this bill, Smith and Udall issued a joint statement explaining the chief purpose of the bill is to repeal the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA and ensure that both civil liberties and national security are protected.
Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed a similar bill last May that required individuals suspected of terrorist activity be tried in civilian courts rather than military commissions. These efforts ultimately failed, and late last year the NDAA passed giving the military the authorization to lock up alleged terrorists without trial. The new bill Smith has proposed aims to correct these mistakes by allowing alleged terrorists to be tried in federal and state courts.
In a letter Smith sent to one of his colleagues, he explains his reasons and justification for this bill. Kyung Song of The Seattle Times reports that since 9/11, “more than 400 people accused of international terrorism have been successfully convicted in U.S. federal courts, including Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, and Richard Reid, the "Shoe Bomber." This stands in sharp contrast to the seven total convictions issued by military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay since its creation 10 years ago.
As Smith points out, “the criminal justice system works,” and those charged with terrorist-related activities are being prosecuted in accordance with their crimes. The NDAA creates concerns among many groups over the president’s authority to indefinitely detain American citizens. While Obama stated upon signing the bill that his administration would not hold Americans in military custody without trial, that offers little assurance that future presidents would do the same. Smith’s bill makes it clear that even people suspected of terrorism are entitled to constitutional protection and corrects what is clearly a bad law.