Washington, DC (Dec. 13, 2011) – Congress must vote down the current version of the National Defense Authorization Act released last night. Ten years of experience in fighting terrorism at home and abroad have proven the president already has the power and the tools to neutralize threats to domestic and national security, and to punish terror crimes, without destroying American values and nullifying the Bill of Rights. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers continues to oppose this legislation on policy grounds. In fact, no one actively involved in fighting the war on terror wants or needs this bill – not the Department of Defense, not the intelligence community, and certainly not their civilian anti-terror counterparts in the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In requiring the military to assume custody over certain terror suspects, even those captured in the United States, the NDAA would interfere with law enforcement agencies’ abilities to arrest and gather intelligence from terror suspects. Additionally, the bill would prohibit the use of defense funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the United States, even for prosecution, even though the federal courts have successfully prosecuted over 400 terrorism cases since 9/11 compared to only 6 in military commission system at Guantanamo.
Sec. 1021 of the bill eviscerates more than 224 years of American legal history respecting fairness and due process of law. It wrongly codifies indefinite detention without charge or trial of terrorism suspects, including U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil, in the custody of the military.
Moreover, the bill would make it virtually impossible to transfer Guantanamo detainees who no longer need to be detained to their homes or other countries – including those already cleared by the Bush and Obama Administrations. It currently costs almost $1 million per year for each Guantanamo detainee, compared to less than $30,000 per year for a federal prisoner in maximum security.
As NACDL President Lisa M. Wayne said last week, “America’s criminal justice system has played an important role in protecting our national security. Since September 11, there have been more than 400 terrorism-related trials completed in the traditional criminal justice system, and there has been no evidence that the federal criminal process is incapable of ensuring effective law enforcement and justice for the accused.”
President Obama has warned that he will be forced to veto this bill should it cross his desk. If Congress does not relent and reconsider, he should.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.