Washington The Senate on Tuesday rejected an effort to strip divisive provisions from a defense bill that deal with the capture and handling of suspected terrorists, setting up a showdown with the White House.
The resounding 60-38 vote sent a strong message to the Obama administration, which has threatened a veto of the bill over the requirement of military custody for captured terror suspects and limitations on the ability to transfer detainees from the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The clash underscores the ongoing dispute between the executive branch and some in Congress over whether to treat suspected terrorists as prisoners of war or criminals.
It also exposed deep divisions within Senate Democratic ranks.
“The provisions would dramatically change broad counterterrorism efforts by requiring law enforcement officials to step aside and ask the Department of Defense to take on a new role they are not fully equipped for and do not want,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who added that the legislation would make the military “police, judge and jailer.”
His amendment would have taken out the sections on detainees and instead called for congressional hearings with Pentagon and administration officials on the issue.
Defending the provisions, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin argued that they contain a national security waiver for the administration. The issue has pitted Levin against other senior Democratic senators, including the chairmen of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
The bill would require military custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates and involved in plotting or committing attacks on the United States.