Senate Detainee Showdown

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday refused to block changes in terrorist detainee policies in a major defense bill, which critics said would in part give the military the power to indefinitely detain American citizens without charges, even if they were arrested on U.S. soil.

"The provisions would dramatically change broad counterterrorism efforts by requiring law enforcement officials to step aside and ask the Department of Defense to take on a new role they are not fully equipped for and do not want," said Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), who led opposition to the plan.

Even with a White House veto threat, Udall was unable to gather much GOP support, as Republicans strongly backed provisions that would require military custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of al-Qaida or any affiliated terror groups.

The vote came not long after Senate Republicans met with former Vice President Dick Cheney, as 44 GOP Senators joined with 15 Democrats and one Independent to keep the new detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Bill.

Much of the opposition brewing on the internet focused on how these changes could result in American citizens being tossed in the military brig - and the news that it was mainly Senate Republicans voting for the tougher detainee provisions caught many of my listeners by surprise.

“What am I missing here?” asked one on Facebook Tuesday afternoon.

“Why are Republicans insisting on a bill (or a provision in a bill) that allows our military to hold an American indefinitely without bringing any charges??”

Two Republicans – Kirk of Illinois and Rand Paul of Kentucky – bucked their leadership and joined with a majority of Democrats in voting to block the new detainee provisions.

“If these provisions pass, we could see American citizens being sent to Guantanamo Bay,” argued Paul.

The issue has been bubbling for a few days on both the Left and Right, as the ACLU and some Tea Party types rallied against the plan, which some argue could allow Americans arrested on terror charges to be labeled a domestic terrorist – and then be transferred to military custody where they could be held indefinitely without charges.

But Republicans who backed the plan say that’s all political hyperbole.

“To be clear: These provisions do not apply to U.S. citizens,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who joined with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to strongly back the detainee plan.

McCain argued the changes “will help defend our nation against the threat posed by al-Qaeda while upholding our values and honoring our Constitution.”

If you look at the text of the bill, there is this:

(1) United states citizens.--The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.

But judging from the reaction on the Right, that’s not what many think the details are.

“TRAITORS RUBIO, DEMINT, MIKE LEE, Toomey, Scott Brown, McCain and Graham voted to let US CITIZENS BE DETAINED without DUE RECOURSE AND DETAINED INDEFINETLY!!!!! “ screamed the subject line of one email sent to reporters.

But back on my Facebook page, people were realizing that maybe their initial reaction was upside down on this issue.

“This is a great thread demonstrating how the Dem v. Repub Farce has stupefied citizens into their suicidal partisan worldview,” one argued, saying the two political parties aren’t much different.

“The conservatives on this thread seem to be very confused, bashing Obama and the Dems for a bill that the REPUBLICANS passed!” chimed in another.

After this bill gets through the Senate, it must go to House-Senate negotiations - where the final product will still have to deal with a veto threat.