Who needs a trial?

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 09, 2011 05:21 pm

Imagine that a U.S. citizen is arrested as a suspected terrorist, on U.S. soil, and then placed in military custody for as long as officials deem necessary.

Oh, and this citizen doesn’t get a trial, so the mere suspicion of complicity in promoting terrorism is sufficient grounds for an open-ended detention.

It sounds like the plot of a novel.

In fact it’s part of a bill that the U.S. Senate passed by a 93-7 vote on Dec. 1.

Greatest deliberative body in history, right?

To their credit, both of Oregon’s senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, voted no on S. 1867, the National Defense Reauthorization Act. And President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

Nonetheless, we’re troubled that legislation which raises such obvious questions about its constitutionality would have gotten this far, and with such majority support.

(Perhaps because, as is typical in Congress, the detention provisions are part of a larger bill with much less controversial parts — in this case, billions of dollars to keep the military running.)

The bill’s proponents argue that the military’s role in detaining terrorists is necessary because U.S soil is part of the battlefield in the war on terror.

That’s certainly true.

But there’s a vast difference — or should be — between having the military deal with members of al-Quaeda caught operating in America, and how we treat American citizens, in their country.

As with any piece of legislation, there is some confusion with S.1867.

Some legal experts have concluded that although the bill requires the military to detain suspected foreign terrorists caught in the U.S., in the case of American citizens the government would have the option of doing so but could also confine American terrorist suspects to the civilian court system and its constitutional protections.

We’re not reassured.

When it comes to our constitutional rights and the government’s protection of them, we consider the word “optional” inappropriate.

We hope the president holds true to his vow to veto this legislation in its current form.