This was an amendment by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) that would require all foreign terrorism suspects to be tried in military tribunals (special trials run by the U.S. military, which do not grant suspects the same constitutional rights as suspects tried in U.S. courts). This amendment was offered to legislation providing annual funding for Defense Department programs.
The underlying defense bill prohibited the Obama administration from transferring detainees held at the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay prison in to a facility in the United States. Thus, the bill effectively barred those detainees from being prosecuted in the United States. Buchanan’s amendment, however, went much further than the underlying bill by requiring all foreign terrorism suspects to be tried in such military tribunals. Thus, Buchanan’s amendment would greatly expand the use of military commissions.
Buchanan urged support for his amendment: “…My amendment requires foreign terrorists to be prosecuted and tried in military tribunals. [Under]The current policy, you have the ability to choose between a civilian court and a military tribunal. What my amendment does is it is easier to convict in a military tribunal. It is easier to protect sensitive, classified information. Foreign terrorists can be imprisoned indefinitely. Foreign terrorists are not allowed the same constitutional opportunities as U.S. citizens; and military tribunals have been used since George Washington.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) opposed the amendment: “This would simply expand that bad idea and deny an even larger segment of people access to Article 3 courts [federal courts]. And it's arguable whether or not it's constitutional. Because there's a little known fact about the Constitution: It doesn't just apply to U.S. citizens; it applies to persons in the United States. So once somebody from wherever they are is in the United States, the Constitution applies to them. And simply taking them out of the justice system and putting them in what I presume would have to be the military, since they are the ones that run our military commissions, I believe would violate the Constitution in this instance, taking away the rights from a person within the United States.”
The House agreed to this amendment by a vote of 246-173. Voting “yea” were 228 Republicans and 18 Democrats. 166 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—and 7 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment that would require all foreign terrorism suspects to be tried in military tribunals. This amendment, however, could only become law if it passed both houses of Congress. Since the Senate had not yet passed its annual Defense authorization bill, it was unclear whether it would include the language contained in Buchanan’s amendment.