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NDAA passage, final transcript from Senate Floor

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Friday, December 2, 2011 at 11:56 AM

The Senate passed the NDAA (S. 1867) last night on a 93-7 vote. The seven senators who voted against final passage are:

  • Coburn
  • Harkin
  • Lee
  • Merkley
  • Paul
  • Sanders
  • Wyden
The bill now moves on to a conference with the House. You can read the transcript from yesterday’s debate on the detainee provisions here, and previous days’ debates herehere and here. Senator Feinstein’s amendment to limit the applicability of the detention provisions to those captured abroad was rejected, as we noted yesterday, in a 45-55 vote, as was Amendment 1126. She proposed a later amendment “of a perfecting nature”:

   Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I wish to explain what has happened this long afternoon. Originally some of us, namely Senators Leahy, Durbin, Udall of Colorado, Kirk, Lee, Harkin, Webb, Wyden, Merkley, and myself, realized that there was a fundamental flaw in section 1031 of the bill.

There is a difference of opinion as to whether there is this a fundamental flaw. We believe the current bill essentially updates and restates the authorization for use of military force that was passed on September 18, 2001. Despite my support for a general detention authority, the provision in the original bill, in our view, went too far. The bill before us would allow the government to detain U.S. citizens without charge until the end of hostilities. We have had long discussions on this.

The disagreement arises from different interpretations of what the current law is. The sponsors of the bill believe that current law authorizes the detention of U.S. citizens arrested within the United States, without trial, until “the end of the hostilities” which, in my view, is indefinitely.

Others of us believe that current law, including the Non-Detention Act that was enacted in 1971, does not authorize such indefinite detention of U.S. citizens arrested domestically. The sponsors believe that the Supreme Court’s Hamdi case supports their position, while others of us believe that Hamdi, by the plurality opinion’s express terms, was limited to the circumstance of U.S. citizens arrested on the battlefield in Afghanistan, and does not extend to U.S. citizens arrested domestically. And our concern was that section 1031 of the bill as originally drafted could be interpreted as endorsing the broader interpretation of Hamdi and other authorities.

So our purpose in the second amendment, number 1456, is essentially to declare a truce, to provide that section 1031 of this bill does not change existing law, whichever side’s view is the correct one. So the sponsors can read Hamdi and other authorities broadly, and opponents can read it more narrowly, and this bill does not endorse either side’s interpretation, but leaves it to the courts to decide.

Because the distinguished chairman, the distinguished ranking member, and the Senator from South Carolina assert that it is not their intent in section 1031 to change current law, these discussions went on and on and they resulted in two amendments: our original amendment, which covers only U.S. citizens, which says they cannot be held without charge or trial, and a compromise amendment to preserve current law, which I shall read:

On page 360, between lines 21 and 22, insert the following:

   Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens or lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.

   I believe this meets the concerns of the leadership of the committee and this is presented as an alternative. There are those of us who would like to vote for the original amendment, which I intend to do, as well as for this modifying amendment. They will appear before you as a side-by-side, so everyone will have the chance to vote yea or nay on the original or yea or nay on the compromise. As I said, I would urge that we vote yes on both.

This is not going to be the world as we see it postvote, but I will tell you this, the chairman and the ranking member have agreed that the modified language presented in the second vote will be contained in the conference; that they will do everything they can to contain this language in the conference.

In the original amendment–my original amendment–which affects only U.S. citizens, that is not the case. They are likely to drop that amendment. So I wish to make the point by voting for both, and I would hope others would do the same. I think a lot has been gained. I think a clear understanding has been gained of the problems inherent in the original bill. I think Members came to the conclusion that they did not want to change present law and they wanted to extend this preservation of current law not only to citizens but to legal resident aliens as well as any other persons arrested in the United States. That would mean they could not be held without charge and without trial. So the law would remain the same as it is today and has been practiced for the last 10 years.

I actually believe it is easy to say either my way or the highway. I want to get something done. I want to be able to assure people in the United States that their rights under American law are protected. The compromise amendment, which is the second amendment we will be voting on, does that. It provides the assurance that the law will remain the same and will not affect the right of charge and the right of trial of any U.S. citizen, any lawful legal alien or any other person in the United States. We have the commitment by both the chairman and the ranking member that they will defend that in conference.

There are those who say I wish to just vote for the original amendment. That is fine. I am not sure it will pass. I don’t know whether it will pass, but in my judgment, the modification is eminently suitable to accomplish the task at hand and has the added guarantee of the support of the chairman, the ranking member in a conference committee with the House, which I think is worth a great deal. They have given their word, and I believe they will keep it. This Recordwill reflect that word.

Her amendment was adopted 99-1 (Senator Kyl was the only “Nay” vote).
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