Military doesn’t need new police powers

The war against terrorists hasn’t ended, even though there have been no successful terrorist attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, and despite the fact that the United States is winding down its military missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan this year.

There are still plenty of Islamic fanatics who want to cause mayhem in this country and other Western democracies, and murder large numbers of our citizens.

Continued vigilance by our intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities is certainly necessary. Moreover, these agencies shouldn’t be hamstrung by unnecessarily restrictive rules, especially when it comes to dealing with foreign operatives believed to be planning or have knowledge of attacks on this country.

But the threat of terrorism is no reason to abandon constitutional and legal protections for the citizens of this country. That could very well occur, however, if provisions added to the National Defense Authorization Act are allowed to stand.

Those provisions would result in “a significant expansion of the military’s detention authority,” said Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, writing Tuesday in the Washington Post. Udall is fighting the provisions with an amendment of his own to eliminate them. His measure is expected to be voted on in the Senate this week.

Most troublesome of all, the new provisions would allow the military to apprehend and hold a terrorism suspect, in some cases indefinitely, “even if he or she is an American captured in a U.S. city,” Udall wrote.

That’s a terrifying prospect that would essentially allow the military to violate protections in the Bill of Rights.

It would also grant the nation’s military new police powers within the boundaries of this country that heretofore have been left to local, state or federal law enforcement agencies.

As Udall put it, “These proposed changes would require the military to take on a new responsibility as police, jailors and judges — jobs for which it is not equipped and which it does not want. These changes to our laws would also authorize the military to exercise unprecedented power on U.S. soil.”

Little wonder that not only Udall, but the White House, the secretary of defense, federal intelligence leaders and the FBI have all raised questions about the measures. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the entire defense authorization act if the measures are included.

This isn’t a strictly partisan issue. As Udall noted in his Washington Post piece, the measures were written by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican John McCain of Arizona. And, as the column below points out, people from both ends of the political spectrum — from the American Civil Liberties Union to people and groups associated with the tea party — are opposing the new measures.

However, senators from both political parties, especially conservative Republicans, are reportedly prepared to back the Levin-McCain provisions.

We applaud Udall for publicly and legislatively challenging these unwarranted provisions, and we hope a majority of senators will support his efforts this week.


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