Protecting American Civil Liberties While Holding al Qaeda and Taliban Prisoners of War
Guest Editorial by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch
Recently, the U.S. Senate passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act. Before the bill was amended it contained a detainee provision that needed work. We, along with other senators, recognized the problem immediately. That was followed by hearing from many Idahoans regarding their concern with the protection of our civil liberties.
Since there has been substantial concern raised and much misinformation circulated, we want to underscore that we share Idahoans' concerns that an out of control government could use even the mere hint of an unconstitutional congressional law to bypass the Bill of Rights. We share Idahoans' skepticism about the size, scope, power, over-reach and accountability of the federal government and their proclivity to bypass American's civil liberties when it is convenient.
When this bill surfaced many of us instantly took note of the detainee provisions. We had spirited debates and a robust philosophical fight with other senators. In the end, we won a change to these provisions to protect U.S. citizens' constitutional rights above all. The result was that the bill's detainee provisions were changed by those of us who regularly focus on civil liberties.
First, we insisted that the provisions not change constitutional guarantees previously recognized and defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. Second, and most importantly, a U.S. citizen must always have the right of access to a regular civil United States district court, and not a military tribunal, for determining the legality of the detention. Third, in order for the government to hold a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant detainee, the government, not the detainee, must prove that the detainee is a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and actually participated in a military attack against Americans. Fourth, the detainee has the usual right of appeal to a United State circuit court and the Supreme Court. These are, as they should be, tough procedures and hurdles for the government to overcome.
The Founding Fathers knew, or at least strongly suspected, that as government grew Americans would have to be consistently vigilant to guard against the kind of tyrannical government they had experienced. Idahoans sent us to Washington to exercise that vigilance on their behalf, and we once again commit that we will always do so.