It hasn’t attracted a lot of attention here in Colorado, but we’ve taken note a few times of Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado pushing back on continued expansion of law enforcement authority to combat terrorism. In March, we discussed Sen. Udall sounding the alarm about Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which is the subject of secret legal opinions that interpret this provision very broadly–much more broadly than understood by most Americans.
Today, Sen. Udall writes an opinion column for CNN.com with Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), in support of their legislation to require civil law enforcement and civilian courts take charge of persons captured in the United States:
Recently, a federal judge blocked the enforcement and implementation of the indefinite military detention authority that Congress passed late last year as part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. It’s a welcome sign from our courts that constitutional safeguards still exist.
When this provision was debated last year, we argued that it was an unwise expansion of law that jeopardized the freedoms of all Americans. We were heartened that the court has wisely chosen to block this policy for much the same reason we opposed it.
However, this federal court injunction is only temporary, and the debate over whether the military has the authority to indefinitely detain individuals captured on U.S. soil without trial is far from over.
Earlier this year, we introduced legislation, recently co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, that would require that civilian law enforcement, including the FBI and civilian courts, take the lead with respect to those captured or detained in the United States.
Some, however, have argued that this approach to national security — one that involves law enforcement and not solely the military — is tantamount to ceding ground to al Qaeda. This argument, designed to paint members of Congress as “soft on terror,” is wrong on two fronts.
Sen. Udall says that for one thing, terrorists aren’t going to be persuaded or dissuaded from attacking an American target based on what kind of authority would arrest and prosecute them, because suicidal attackers really don’t care. It’s much more important, argues Udall, that we protect the rights of American citizens. He also notes that to dis civil police and our court system is a slap against civilian law enforcement “who have kept us safe since 9/11.”
Bottom line: Sen. Udall deserves more credit for these principled stands in defense of the civil liberties of Americans than he ever gets from local media. It almost seems like local press is disinterested in what Sen. Udall is doing, whether out of ignorance or simply because they’re overwhelmed with so many politicians up for election this year. Udall will deserve recognition for his perseverance on domestic civil liberties in 2014, and we hope he gets it.