McCain and Lieberman’s dangerous bill

On March 4th, Senators McCain and Lieberman quietly introduced a bill that Salon Magazine’s Glen Greenwald calls “the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill introduced in the Senate in the last several decades, far beyond the horrific, habeas-abolishing Military Commissions Act.”

It is senate bill S.3081, the “Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010,” which now has nine sponsors including newly elected Senator Scott Brown.

This bill appears to be Senators McCain and Lieberman’s response to President Obama choosing to have the Christmas “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried in civilian courts. And, according to Greenwald, it is also “designed to formally authorize what the Bush administration did to U.S. citizen Jose Padilla—arrest him on U.S. soil and imprison him for years in military custody with no charges.”

This bill grants the president the power to order, arrest, interrogate and imprison anyone—including U.S. citizens—considered to be a “suspected belligerent” or a “high value detainee.” According to the bill, a person is considered a “high value detainee” if he/she fulfills one of the following criteria:

(1) poses a threat of an attack on civilians or civilian facilities within the U.S. or U.S. facilities abroad; (2) poses a threat to U.S. military personnel or U.S. military facilities; (3) potential intelligence value; (4) is a member of al Qaeda or a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda, or (5) such other matters as the President considers appropriate.

In other words, an individual doesn’t even have to pose a threat to be picked up, detained and interrogated by the military. Individuals can merely be determined to be of “potential intelligence value” or come under the vague mandate of “such other matters as the President considers appropriate.” After the arrest, “The High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team must make a preliminary determination whether the detainee is an unprivileged enemy belligerent, within 48 hours of taking detainee into custody.” The final determination of whether or not the person is an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” is made by the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General. And then, the so-called unprivileged enemy belligerent can be held indefinitely in military custody.

Liliana Segura, writing at Alternet, says  “This is a defining characteristic of a military dictatorship. Where’s the outrage?”

The ACLU has expressed its vigorous opposition to the legislation, labeling it nothing less than a “direct attack on the Constitution.” “Indefinite detention flies in the face of American values and violates this country’s commitment to the rule of law,” states Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

The frightening aspect of this bill, besides the fact that it shreds the Constitution, is that it gives the president and the military the power to turn the “war on terror” against politically active American citizens who may express dissent against the policies of the government.