Detained indefinitely without a trial? Michigan's Amash says "no"

Dec 13, 2011

Freshman Republican Congressman Justin Amash opposes a bill that would give the federal government the power to detain American citizens indefinitely, if suspected of terrorist activities.

"The federal government could come to someone’s house, pull the person out of the house and the family could ask, 'why are you taking my husband away?' and the federal government can simply say, 'we don’t have to tell you, he’s suspected of terrorism,'" he said in an interview with Michigan Radio's Jennifer White.

Amash sent a letter calling on congressional leaders to modify provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that authorize the indefinite detention of American citizens without charge or trial.

A  group of representatives from both sides of the aisle joined Amash’s letter to the House conferees who are negotiating with their Senate counterparts on a final version of the bill.

The text of the letter outlines the group's specific concerns with the law:

Section 1031 of the Senate’s NDAA authorizes the President to detain persons who “substantially supported” forces “associated” with al-Qaeda or the Taliban that “are engaged in hostilities” against the U.S. or its “coalition partners.”  None of the quoted terms are defined.  We do not know what constitutes substantial support, hostilities, or our coalition partners.  Critically, the bill does not attempt to define “associated forces,” either.  Without knowing what qualifies as an associated force, no one can be sure they are safe from the government’s detention when they support any group.

We also are concerned that the Senate’s NDAA allows one past act of support for a group permanently to subject a person to detention.  The Senate’s NDAA states that a person who “substantially supported . . . associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners” may be detained indefinitely.  The bill thus allows one act of support for a group that at the time was not hostile to the U.S. to endanger the person’s future liberty.

The Senate voted to support the bill which was satirized on the Daily Show.