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Senate panel - Feinstein, Paul against - cuts rights of citizen terror suspects
By CAROLYN LOCHHEAD, Hearst Newspapers
Published 11:41 p.m., Tuesday, November 29, 2011
WASHINGTON — California Democrat Dianne Feinstein joined Tea Party-backed Kentucky Republican Rand Paul Tuesday in a failed attempt to block Senate legislation that would allow the U.S. military to imprison American citizens indefinitely without trial if they are suspected of terrorism.
An amendment they backed to strip the provisions from a broad defense bill failed 38-60.
"The U.S. government should not have the ability to lock away its citizens for years and perhaps decades without charging them," Feinstein said, comparing the legislation to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. "We don't pick up citizens, we don't incarcerate them for 10 or 15 or 20 years until hostilities end — and no one knows when they will end — without giving them due process of law."
Speaking as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein declared that the nation "is safer than it has ever been before" from terrorist attack and that some 300 civilian terrorism prosecutions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks prove the U.S. court system is working.
Feinstein cited the so-called "American Taliban," John Walker Lindh, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Jose Padilla, also a U.S. citizen convicted of plotting a radiological or "dirty bomb" attack and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Paul was the only Republican who voted to strip the so-called detainee provisions, while 17 Democrats voted with the rest of Republicans to keep them in the broader legislation.
The bill has drawn a veto threat from the Obama administration and raised an outcry on the left and the right, opening a crack in what has been — since the 9/11 attacks — a united Republican front favoring broad war-making and detention powers by the executive branch.
"If you join al-Qaida, you will suffer the consequences," Graham said. "If you're an American citizen and you betray your country, you're not going to be given a lawyer." Graham said terrorism is not a crime but an act of war.
Paul compared the legislation to Egypt's "emergency law" of 1958 allowing indefinite imprisonment of citizens that helped foment Egypt's revolution last spring.
"We could see American citizens being sent to Guantanamo Bay," Paul said, referring to the U.S. military installation in Cuba where terrorism suspects are held without trial. "We should not have to sacrifice our liberty to be safe."
The defense bill is expected to pass the full Senate next month. A House version passed earlier this year. The House bill also continues the authorization of the use of force that Congress granted the president in order to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., waged an unsuccessful fight last spring to strip that authority. Garamendi said the provision "gives continuing authority for the president to intervene militarily anywhere in the world.''