U.S. Falls in Judiciary Rank as Senate Passes Defense Bill
MANHATTAN (CN) - A day before U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham voted to let the military indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without trial, the South Carolina Republican delivered opening remarks at a ceremony for the new 2011 Rule of Law Index, which measures how well countries put their principles into practice.
President Barack Obama could sign, or veto, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 as early as Tuesday, according to Human Rights First, which is circulating a petition against the legislation.
The bill passed the Senate on Dec. 1, one day after Graham delivered opening remarks for the World Justice Program at a National Press Club conference in Washington, D.C. Few media outlets covered the Nov. 30 ceremony, held to present the nongovernmental organization's 2011 Rule of Law Index, but World Justice Program posted YouTube video footage on its website.
Graham applauded the defense bill during his remarks, saying it would codify procedures for military detention of U.S. citizens and balance national security concerns with respect for the rule of law.
"We're about to get it right with the help of Carl Levin, who has been a champion on this issue," Graham said, referring to the Democratic senator from Michigan who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Levin drafted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) secretly with the committee's ranking member Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. It authorizes the military to indefinitely detain suspected al-Qaida members, supporters or "associated forces" without a trial.
Graham told the National Press Club audience that Levin favored a "balanced approach that focuses on intelligence gathering in a humane way, but with very robust due process so that no one is left in an American prison because somebody in the executive branch said so."
A day later, Graham voted "yea" on the NDAA, a bill he applauded for ensuring that "when they say, 'I want my lawyer,' you tell them: 'Shut up. You don't get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined al-Qaida.'"
Just seven senators voted against the bill, with 93 for it.
The White House raised "serious legal and policy concerns about many of the detainee provisions in the bill" in a Nov. 17 statement, complaining that it would limit the executive branch's power.
"In their current form, some of these provisions disrupt the executive branch's ability to enforce the law and impose unwise and unwarranted restrictions on the U.S. government's ability to aggressively combat international terrorism; other provisions inject legal uncertainty and ambiguity that may only complicate the military's operations and detention practices," the statement said.
Levin told reporters on Monday night that the bill was revised to broaden the executive branch's powers. "I just can't imagine that the president would veto this bill," he reportedly said.
The World Justice Program cited "limited government power" as one of the nine categories it considers in its rankings.
"The [U.S.] civil justice system is independent and free of undue influence, but it remains inaccessible to disadvantaged groups (ranking 21st)," according to the report. "Legal assistance is expensive or unavailable (ranking 52nd), and the gap between rich and poor individuals in terms of both actual use of and satisfaction with the civil courts system remains significant."
A graph in the report places the United States fourth from the bottom in a list showing "access to civil justice in high-income countries," below Singapore and above Italy.
The report also laments the "general perception" in the United States "that ethnic minorities and foreigners receive unequal treatment from the police and the courts."
Human Rights Watch reported this year that black men are incarcerated six times more often than white men in the United States.
Michelle Alexander, a Ohio State University law professor who authored "The New Jim Crow," wrote that more black men are in prison in the United States today than were enslaved in 1850.
A World Justice Program spokeswoman declined to comment on how the NDAA might affect the U.S. ranking in next year's index, or why the organization chose Graham to announce the 2011 Rule of Law Index.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First did not immediately respond to requests for comment.