Surrendering our values

President should veto use of military as ‘police, judge and jailer’

Should American military forces be empowered to detain suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on American soil and hold them indefinitely, without bringing charges? That’s a question President Obama will have to answer in coming days, as he considers whether to veto the defense appropriations bill.

As Democratic Sen. Mark Udall put it, the provision inserted into the $660 billion appropriations bill would eliminate all constitutional protections and make the military “police, judge and jailer.”

Or, as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham vividly stated, suspected citizens open 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.’”

The military’s record along these lines is anything but reassuring. Hundreds of “suspected terrorists” who ended up in Gitmo after being fingered for the bounty were found, after years in the prison, to have no connection to terrorism.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller both opposed the provision for practical reasons, saying it was cumbersome and ultimately counterproductive. But Udall’s bill to strip the provision from the appropriations bill failed in the Senate, 61-37. Both of California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted in the minority.

The president should veto the appropriations bill. The right to a trial is fundamental in this country, and giving the military such absolute authority is going too far. When we start abandoning our core values to combat terrorism, the terrorists have won.