The United States Senate is slated to take up the 2014 iteration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual bill loaded with hundreds of controversial amendments which sets major policy directives for the Pentagon’s coming year.
Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, told Defense News that the upper legislative chamber will likely begin discussing NDAA prior to Nov. 18.
“We’ve been talking about it. There’s been some talk about the 18th is when it would start,” Inhofe said.
“Sooner is better,” he continued. “It’s going to take a full week. So it would seem to me that we should get started sooner than the 18th.”
NDAA bills in recent years have received a great deal of public attention — especially the 2012 NDAA bill — because of the inclusion of a provision which uses broad, ill-defined language to grant the government the authority to indefinitely detain and use military force against any American citizen deemed a terrorist by bureaucrats.
The American Civil Liberties Union notes:
In December 2011, President Obama signed the 2012 NDAA, codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history. The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president — and all future presidents — to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield. The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.
Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen detained on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress now assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way again. The ACLU believes that any military detention of American citizens or others within the United States is unconstitutional and illegal, including under the NDAA. In addition, the breadth of the NDAA’s detention authority violates international law because it is not limited to people captured in the context of an actual armed conflict as required by the laws of war.
In an attempt to quiet public concern with the signing of last year’s NDAA bill Congress added a provision, Sec. 1029, asserting that “any person inside the United States” is allowed his Constitutional rights, including habeas corpus as a fix for the indefinite detention provision. But critics of the government’s broad detention powers remained unimpressed.
“Saying that new language somehow ensures the right to habeas corpus — the right to be presented before a judge — is both questionable and not enough. Citizens must not only be formally charged but also receive jury trials and the other protections our Constitution guarantees. Habeas corpus is simply the beginning of due process. It is by no means the whole,” Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said last January.
Voting on this year’s NDAA bill is expected to bring about debate on a number of contentious issues, not the least of which is the National Security Agency’s (NSA) sweeping surveillance on the American public.
In July, when the defense appropriations bill was under House consideration, an amendment to stop the NSA’s spying was narrowly defeated. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said last week that he hopes a repeat of the House NSA debate doesn’t occur as the Senate considers the appropriations bill, telling The Hill that the bill is already too big.
Senators may opt to focus less on NSA-related quarreling in debating the 2014 NDAA, as Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have already offered up competing NSA bills which would, respectively, quell or strengthen the spy agency’s powers.
Also slated to come under consideration in upcoming NDAA talks is a proposal offered by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), which has been billed as an effort to quell military sexual assaults. Gillibrand’s proposal would remove the military chain of command from the process of prosecuting sexual assault and other major crimes among the ranks.
The bill could also give Senators a way to push a bevy of new sanctions against Iran following a recent White House offer to lessen sanctions on the nation in return for a temporary halt to the production of highly enriched uranium.
While NDAA doesn’t address sequestration spending caps, some legislators are expected to propose amendments that would give the Pentagon broader flexibility in applying mandatory spending cuts following much talk from top brass about the dangers of sequestration in recent months.
The Senate version of the NDAA grants the Obama Administration’s request for $526.6 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $79.4 billion to fund ongoing overseas conflicts.