Prof. Thomas McDonnell comments on military detainment for US citizens suspected of terrorism

Prof. Thomas McDonnell, an expert on terrorism, was quoted in Federal Computer Week about the 2012 National Defense Authorization Bill. According to the story, lawmakers in both chambers of Congress say they have agreed upon a version of the bill, and expect to vote on it this week. President Obama has threatened to veto it.

The story notes that a controversial measure in the bill provides “powers for the military to detain those suspected of terrorist activity indefinitely, a measure that has created much of the uproar surrounding the bill.”

The story goes on:

Capitol Hill lawmakers have insisted the measures specifically target terrorists and don’t pose a threat to law-abiding U.S. citizens, but Thomas McDonnell, a professor at Pace Law School and terrorism expert, said that even with the modified provisions, the language in the NDAA addressing detainment is ambiguous.

“The main purpose is to ensure that those involved in Islamist terrorism get tried by a military commission, not the federal courts,” McDonnell said. “This is extraordinarily broadly written material. We don’t know exactly what it means in terms of how U.S. citizens are treated … it’s unclear.”

He noted that the laws appear to be in violation with the Geneva Conventions in that the military commissions aren’t constitutional courts – and that’s part of the reason that the approach is all wrong, he said.

“We’re treating this problem as a military problem in general, and a law enforcement problem as the exception—it should be exactly the reverse,” McDonnell said. “Our federal courts are very powerful. Military court martial is appropriate in some cases, but this law pushes that into a lot of cases.”

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