Do Terrorists Get Due Process? Maybe

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Photo: Getty Images/2005 Getty Images

Does the American government have the right to arrest terrorism suspects on U.S. soil and hold them in military custody indefinitely? No one's quite sure, and Thursday night the Senate refused to clarify the matter. The Senate voted 99-1 in favor that the new defense bill "does not affect existing law" on the issue at hand — even though nobody knows what existing law is.

"We make clear that whatever the law is, it is unaffected by this language in our bill,” said Senator Carl Levin, who seems have a strange notion of what it means to make something clear.

Senator Lindsey Graham said citizens who are suspected of joining Al Qaeda are opening themselves up “to imprisonment and death. And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined Al Qaeda.’"

The ambiguity can be traced back to a 2004 Supreme Court ruling. The decision said an American captured in Afghanistan could be held as an enemy combatant. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote, “there is no bar to this nation’s holding one of its own citizens as an enemy combatant.” But she also stressed that the ruling was limited to “a United States citizen captured in a foreign combat zone.”