Codifying Detention Without Trial Would Hinder US Counterterrorism Efforts
December 1, 2011
President Obama should veto this attempt to make detention without trial a permanent feature of US law. This bill would give a green light to abusive governments around the world to do the same and would take the prosecution of terrorism suspects out of the hands of the civilian justice system.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – US President Barack Obama should hold firm on his promise to veto a bill passed by the Senate on December 1, 2011, which contains provisions on the detention of terrorism suspects that would undermine US counterterrorism efforts, Human Rights Watch said today. The administration had previously outlined objections to the detainee provisions in the bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, and threatened a veto if the problems were not addressed.

“President Obama should veto this attempt to make detention without trial a permanent feature of US law," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “This bill would give a green light to abusive governments around the world to do the same and would take the prosecution of terrorism suspects out of the hands of the civilian justice system.”

The NDAA authorizes, but is not essential to, funding most Defense Department operations. In addition to codifying indefinite detention without charge in US law, the bill would require that the military, rather than federal, state, or local law enforcement, handle certain terrorism cases. The military could waive this requirement but only under conditions it has complained are unworkable and onerous. It would also allow restrictions imposed last year on releasing Guantanamo detainees to other countries – even those cleared for release by the administration – to remain in force at least another year.

When the bill was before the Senate, several senior administration officials, including the secretary of defense, attorney general, director of national intelligence, director of the FBI, and director of the CIA, all raised objections that mandating military detention with few exceptions would interfere with the administration’s ability to effectively fight terrorism.

“This bill attempts to dismantle a system that has long prosecuted and incapacitated dangerous terrorists and replace it with Guantanamo’s dysfunctional commissions and their proven record of failure,” Roth said.

In the last 10 years over 400 people have been prosecuted in US federal courts for terrorism related offenses. Meanwhile in Guantanamo military commissions during that same period, only six cases have been prosecuted.

An amendment to strip the controversial provisions from the bill prior to Senate passage failed on November 29 but by a margin of 60 to 38 votes, indicating that proponents of the bill would not have enough votes, two-thirds, to override a presidential veto.