Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blocked a vote on this year’s defense budget authorization act because of provisions in the bill that the Obama administration says will tie its hands when dealing with terrorism suspects. Reid explained his impending move on the Senate floor Monday before issuing a letter Tuesday to the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. On the floor Monday, Reid said:
But I also say, Mr. President, in its present form, I’m going to have some difficulty bringing this bill to the floor. It contains provisions relating to the detention of terrorism suspects that in the words of national security adviser John Brennan would be, and I quote, “disastrous. It would tie the hands of our counterterrorism professionals by eliminating tools and authorities that have been absolutely essential to their success.”
To show you how extremely important it is that we do something about these provisions in this bill that are just wrong, both the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and the Intelligence Committee in the Senate have asked for hearings on this provision in this bill.
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In a September speech, Brennan, a deputy national security adviser, decried any “rigid, inflexible approach” to terrorism that would stop the Obama administration from taking its “practical, flexible, results-driven approach that maximizes our intelligence collection and preserves our ability to prosecute dangerous individuals.”
A day after his floor comments, Reid sent a letter the Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) informing them that he didn’t intend to bring the National Defense Authorization Act to the floor until it was stripped of the detention provisions. In the letter, Reid objected to:
[T]he authorization of indefinite detention in section 1031, the requirement for mandatory military custody of terrorism suspects in Section 1032, and the stringent restrictions on transfer of detainees in Section 1033. [...]
I strongly believe that we must maintain the capability and flexibility to effectively apply the full range of tools at our disposal to combat terrorism. This includes the use of our criminal justice system, which has accumulated an impressive record of success in bringing terrorists to justice.
In his floor speech, Reid cited a compromise over last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which originally included a repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on gays in the military. Republicans filibustered the authorization and Democrats relented, taking the DADT repeal out of the bill and agreeing to put it forward later as a separate vote. Reid asked that McCain take the same approach to the terrorism detention provisions in this year’s authorization.