|President Barack Obama has promised to close the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, where suspected terrorists have been held for years without trial. But Congress has continually voted to block this policy. An amendment proposed by Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire bars any use of federal funds for the "transfer or release of individuals from United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." Senators approved that amendment by 54 votes to 41. All the Republicans present, including Grassley, voted for this amendment, as did eight Democrats. Harkin was one of the 41 Senate Democrats to vote no.
I've read contradictory reports on another closely-watched amendment, proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California with several Republican co-sponsors. Feinstein offered the amendment in order to clarify "questions that arose during last year's defense authorization bill about the U.S. Government's power to detain its citizens indefinitely." Those provisions are being challenged in a federal lawsuit.
Proponents including Senator Rand Paul described Feinstein's amendment as a "victory for Americans' trial by jury." The stated goal was
"To clarify that an authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States."
The legislative language reads:
"Nothing in the AUMF or the 2012 NDAA shall be construed to deny the availability of the writ of habeas corpus or to deny any Constitutional rights in a court ordained or established by or under Article III of the Constitution for any person who is lawfully in the United States when detained pursuant to the AUMF and who is otherwise entitled to the availability of such writ or such rights."
Michael Kelley of Business Insider quoted Bruce Afran, a "lawyer for the group of journalists and activists suing the government over the 2012 NDAA."
Afran explained that the new provision gives U.S. citizens a right to go to civilian (i.e. Article III) court based on "any [applicable] constitutional rights," but since there are are no rules in place to exercise this right, detained U.S. citizens currently have no way to gain access to lawyers, family or the court itself once they are detained within the military.
"The biggest thing about the  NDAA was that you weren't getting a trial ... Nothing in here says that you'll make it to an Article III court so it literally does nothing," Dan Johnson, founder of People Against the NDAA, told BI. "It's a bunch of words, basically,"
Afran noted that the newest version actually goes further than the NDAA that's now in effect.
"The new statute actually states that persons lawfully in the U.S. can be detained under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force [AUMF]. The original (the statute we are fighting in court) never went that far," Afran said. "Therefore, under the guise of supposedly adding protection to Americans, the new statute actually expands the AUMF to civilians in the U.S."
I expect courts will sort out whether the Feinstein amendment accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish, or in fact expanded the government's ability to arrest U.S. citizens on U.S. soil and hold them indefinitely without trial.
For what it's worth, Harkin was one of the 67 senators who voted to approve the Feinstein amendment. Grassley was one of 29 senators (mostly Republicans) to vote no.
As I mentioned above, senators unanimously approved the defense authorization bill on final passage. Jeremy Herb and Ramsey Cox summarized the main issues the conference committee will need to resolve.
The two bills were roughly $3 billion apart after the Senate's version passed committee, with the House bill coming in at a higher topline than the Senate-passed version.
The Senate's bill reversed several policies that were in the House-passed bill, including restrictions on the military's use of biofuels and plans for an East Coast missile defense site.
The House bill includes policies that the Democratic-led Senate is opposed to, particularly on social issues, such as a ban on same-sex ceremonies on military bases and language that says military chaplains can't be punished for opposing same-sex marriage.
The Senate bill also included a new round of Iran sanctions, a "permanent ban" on transferring detainees from Guantánamo and prohibitions on the military detention of U.S. citizens.
Harkin's office released a statement emphasizing a provision in the NDAA designed to support the Rock Island Arsenal (a major employer in the Quad Cities).
December 5, 2012
Bi-State Delegation Announces That Senate Approves Provisions From Their Bill to Increase Workload at Rock Island Arsenal
Defense Authorization bill directs Defense Secretary to create a strategic workload plan for arsenals including Rock Island
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mark Kirk (R-IL) announced that major portions of their bill to help increase the workload and help ensure the long-term health of Rock Island Arsenal were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013. The bill will now go to a House-Senate Conference Committee tasked with working out the differences between the Senate version and House version of the defense authorization bill.
Similar to the Army Arsenal Strategic Workload Enhancement Act of 2012 introduced by the four Senators in May, today's bill builds on last year's bipartisan effort to increase public-private partnership opportunities at the Arsenal by directing the Secretary of Defense to create a strategic workload plan for arsenals - including Rock Island Arsenal - and report back to Congress no later than February 28, 2013.
"Facilities like Rock Island Arsenal are critical to our country's ability to maintain its manufacturing capabilities at home, while securing our workforce right here in the Quad Cities," said Harkin. "This bipartisan effort will continue to ensure that the Rock Island Arsenal is able to function, even as we wind down our military operations overseas."
"It's good news that this effort is moving forward. The capabilities of the Rock Island Arsenal have proven their value for a long time and have important place in America's defense strategies and wartime needs in the years and decades ahead. This measure will help secure the important contributions of the Arsenal," Grassley said.
"The provisions included in today's bill ensure that the Rock Island Arsenal's dedicated and highly-skilled workforce is able to continue to serve this country's economic and national security interests by developing and manufacturing critical weapons, parts and materiel." Durbin said. "Not only is the Rock Island Arsenal a major employer for the Quad Cities region, it is a recognized source of some of the most sophisticated engineering and manufacturing in the entire country. I am committed to seeing that this measure is fully implemented, and I commend my colleagues for their work in this bipartisan effort to help secure the Arsenal's future."
"Rock Island Arsenal's manufacturing capabilities are both an asset to the Quad Cities economy and the strategic defense of this nation," Senator Kirk said. "This measure includes provisions that strengthen critical public-private partnerships, helping to ensure the Arsenal's long-term health. I commend Senators Durbin, Harkin and Grassley and Representatives Bobby Schilling and David Loebsack for their efforts to advocate for the Arsenal and protect its future."
On May 9, Durbin, Kirk, Grassley, and Harkin introduced the Army Arsenal Strategic Workload Enhancement Act of 2012 which would require the Army to create a strategic plan to ensure arsenals, including Rock Island, receive the workload they need to keep workers' skills sharp. The Army does this type of systematic planning for some of its components but not for arsenals. The bipartisan bill would also promote the use of arsenals defense-wide.
The bill builds upon a bipartisan effort last year by the bi-state congressional delegation to expand the Arsenal's ability to enter into public-private partnerships which are necessary for Rock Island to maintain and improve its workload. Specifically, they secured - as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2012 - an unlimited number of public-private partnerships for the Arsenal and the opportunity for the Arsenal to be designated as a Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence, which will permit the Army to automatically assign work to Rock Island based on its expertise.
The Army Arsenal Strategic Workload Enhancement Act of 2012 was also cosponsored by Senators John Boozman (R-AR), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Mark L. Pryor (D-AR) and Senator Charles E. Schumer.
Statement from Senator Chuck Grassley, December 7:
Grassley initiatives earn place in defense bill passed this week by U.S. Senate
WASHINGTON - Annual legislation passed by the Senate this week to authorize spending by the U.S. Department of Defense contains three initiatives by Senator Chuck Grassley, along with a measure he supported for the Rock Island Arsenal and legislation he cosponsored to try to make it possible to successfully audit Pentagon spending. Senators voted 98 to 0 for passage of the overall bill.
The first initiative is part of a reform effort Grassley has pursued for several years with Senator Barbara Boxer of California to lower the compensation cap on taxpayer reimbursements for top executives of government contractors. The Senate-passed National Defense Authorization Act (S.3254) includes a bill introduced by Boxer and Grassley (S.2198) to reduce the annual salary reimbursement cap - what government contractors can charge taxpayers - from $763,029 to $230,700 and to apply limits for the first time to all contractor employees, not just the highest level employees.
Grassley and Boxer also won passage during Senate debate on the defense bill to require an independent assessment of how reforms in this area are taking hold. The most recent data available, from 2005, indicates there are 7.6 million government contractors, including 5.2 million defense contractors.
The second Grassley initiative that was incorporated into the Senate defense bill would let federal law enforcement officers petition to have their cases heard before a federal court in cases where officers have acted in accordance with their official duties but were charged with a crime in state or territorial courts.
Grassley sponsored this bipartisan Officer Safety Act (S.2276) with Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. It's modeled after the Good Samaritan Act, though it simply allows for federal law enforcement officers to have their cases moved to the federal court system. It does not provide immunity to the officers. Grassley said it's a common sense proposal to help make communities safer by recognizing the value and training of federal law enforcement officers who encounter ongoing criminal activity.
The third Grassley initiative that is now part of the Senate-passed defense authorization bill is legislation (S.883) he introduced with Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and sponsored previously with Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut to authorize the establishment of a memorial in Washington, D.C., to recognize African American patriots who fought for the United States during the Revolutionary War.
According to the Daughters of the American Revolution, more than 5,000 African Americans, including Iowan Cato Mead, served as soldiers or sailors for the colonies during the Revolutionary War. Mead was from Connecticut but spent his final years in Southeast Iowa, and there is a monument dedicated to him in the Montrose Cemetery in Lee County. With authorization, a Washington, D.C., memorial to these Revolutionary War patriots would be funded entirely by the National Mall Liberty Fund, D.C., a non-profit organization.
In addition, the Senate defense bill includes a measure (S.3054) put forward by Grassley, along with Senator Tom Harkin and Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois, to request a strategic workload plan for the nation's Army arsenals, including the Rock Island Arsenal in the Quad Cities. The effort is intended to help increase arsenal workloads and strengthen their long-term position in America's defense strategies, Grassley said.
Finally, the Senate bill includes key provisions from a bipartisan bill Grassley cosponsored earlier this year, the Audit the Pentagon Act (S.3487). The legislation would create a separate Chief Management Officer position at the Department of Defense and transfer the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to the Treasury Department if the Department of Defense fails to obtain an unqualified audit opinion of its financial statements by 2017. The Department of Defense opposed these changes when they were proposed in 2007, but five years later, the Department of Defense still cannot pass a financial audit and remains on the Government Accountability Office's high risk list for financial management, supply chain management, weapon system acquisition, and business transformation.
The House of Representatives passed its annual defense authorization bill in November. The House and Senate bills now must be reconciled for final passage.