A local legislator’s effort to create more congressional oversight
over the Justice Department’s detainment of so-called “enemy
combatants” has passed a key hurdle.
An amendment to the Department of Justice Reauthorization Bill
introduced by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) passed the House Judiciary
Committee last week.
Schiff’s amendment requires an annual report from U.S. Atty. Gen.
John Ashcroft detailing how many U.S. citizens and residents are
detained, and establishes standards for designating someone as an
“I think the issue of greatest concern in the domestic war on
terrorism, from a civil liberties point of view, is the detention of
American citizens without access to counsel or judicial review,”
Schiff’s introduction of the legislation has come in response to
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and is a reaction to Justice
Department efforts to deal with newer technology that criminals use
to commit crimes. Schiff said he was responding to legal questions
that have surrounded the detainment of people like Jose Padilla, a
Bronx-born U.S. citizen who has been classified by federal
law-enforcement officials as an enemy combatant and detained in South
Carolina. Born in the Bronx and arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare
International Airport, Padilla stands accused of planning to build a
“dirty bomb,” a crude bomb that when detonated spreads radioactive
Schiff has supported such legislation as the Patriot Act, which
puts more teeth into law enforcement. But he said his amendments are
an effort to fill the civil liberties gaps in recent legislation.
“Along with those strengths in law-enforcement tools comes a
greater responsibility of the Congress to see how they are using
those tools,” he said.
In February, Schiff introduced the Detention of Enemy Combatants
Act. The act requires all detainees be granted access to counsel and
due process of law. It would establish criteria for the labeling and
detention of enemy combatants.
It would also guarantee timely access to judicial review, counsel
and the ability to challenge the basis for a detention.
Congress would maintain the oversight of detention of U.S.
citizens and lawful residents. That legislation is pending before the
Judiciary and Armed Services committees.