WASHINGTON -- Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) on Wednesday for stripping a provision from the National Defense Authorization Act that Paul and others have said would have prevented the U.S. government from holding U.S. citizens indefinitely without a trial.
"The decision by the NDAA conference committee, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to strip the National Defense Authorization Act of the amendment that protects American citizens against indefinite detention now renders the entire NDAA unconstitutional,” Paul said in an emailed statement.
“I voted against NDAA in 2011 because it did not contain the proper constitutional protections. When my Senate colleagues voted to include those protections in the 2012 NDAA through the Feinstein-Lee Amendment last month, I supported this act. But removing those protections now takes us back to square one and does as much violence to the Constitution as last year’s NDAA," Paul said.
"When the government can arrest suspects without a warrant, hold them without trial, deny them access to counsel or admission of bail, we have shorn the Bill of Rights of its sanctity."
Paul's father, retiring Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), helped make the NDAA a rallying cry issue for his own supporters as he ran for the Republican presidential nomination. And the NDAA issue has gained traction, penetrating popular culture to the extent that rapper Big Boi, of Outkast, recently slammed the NDAA in an interview with the music magazine Pitchfork.
The indefinite detention provision that Paul supported was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and passed the Senate by a 67-29 vote on Nov. 29. But no such language was passed in the House version, and the conference committee that convened to reconcile the two versions of the legislation, which was chaired by McCain, replaced the language proposed by Feinstein and Lee with different language that says citizens' habeas corpus rights remain protected.
Paul said this is insufficient.
“Saying that new language somehow ensures the right to habeas corpus -- the right to be presented before a judge -– is both questionable and not enough. Citizens must not only be formally charged but also receive jury trials and the other protections our Constitution guarantees. Habeas corpus is simply the beginning of due process. It is by no means the whole," Paul said.
“Our Bill of Rights is not something that can be cherry-picked at legislators’ convenience. When I entered the United States Senate, I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. It is for this reason that I will strongly oppose passage of the McCain conference report that strips the guarantee to a trial by jury.”
UPDATE: 6:57 p.m. -- Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, denied Paul's accusation. Rogers said in an email:
"The plain language of this year’s defense authorization conference report does nothing remotely resembling what Senator Paul claims. The relevant section, entitled ‘Rights Unaffected,’ preserves not just the right to habeas corpus, but all constitutional rights enjoyed by every person before a court of the United States. To suggest that the chairmen and ranking members of the congressional defense authorization committees somehow stripped those rights is just wrong.”