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In Congress Adam Smith and Justin Amash Wage a Bipartisan Battle for Civil Liberties

by Timothy Troutner, published

In Washington, the battle over civil liberties is raging unnoticed. While the mass media covers the contentious but more ancillary issues of  President Obama's support for gay marriage and the partisan squabbles over various bills, debates are happening that would shock the American people. Civil liberties are under attack, and few even hear about the minority who are standing up for the rights of both the innocent and those assumed guilty.

While independent voters have become familiar with the rhetoric of left versus right, this is an issue that transcends parties. The majority of lawmakers in both parties favor a state that can kill foreign people with drones and detain Americans indefinitely. A few statesmen from both parties are standing up to these policies, but most Americans are oblivious. A series of incidents over the last month has exposed this battle for civil liberties in this generation.

The first two politicians fighting for civil liberties are Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) These two men wrote a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that would allow indefinite detention of American citizens. This surprising coalition of an Obama supporter and a man mentioned as a possible VP choice for Ron Paul (R-Tex.) can agree on one thing: civil liberties. Their amendment would have allowed the justice system to prevail over the presumption of guilt. Yet their amendment was met with extreme criticism and eventually failed. As Mother Jones reports:

"What exactly was the diabolical scheme Smith and Amash had proposed, which would lead to a Normandy-like invasion of Al Qaeda terrorists armed with Muslim Heat Vision and bent on taking advantage of America's adversarial court system? It was an amendment to the defense bill that says anyone arrested on American soil on suspicion of terrorism would get a fair trial in a civilian court, where their guilt would have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

The amendment, which did not harbor terrorists, but simply mandated a just trial (like for any murderer) for a terrorist presumed guilty of an attack, failed amid widespread condemnation. The vote was 182-238. While the vote largely reflected partisan affiliation, in this case 19 Democrats broke ranks to reject the amendment, and 19 Republicans switched sides in favor of civil liberties. It is good news that a few statesmen from opposite aisles had the courage to support the civil liberties of terrorism suspects, but the reality remains: the majority in Washington believe that our court system is not adequate or not ideal for trying terrorists, and that a military trial or no trial is better than the trial by jury envisioned by our nation's Founders.

Another champion of civil liberties is Dennis Kucinich of the far-left. He recently proposed an amendment condemning "signature strikes," in which unknown targets are selected for drone attacks based on behavior. According to Fox Nation:

"Specifically, the amendment would stop JSOC members from participating in combat operations 'in which an unmanned aerial vehicle is used to attack a target who's identity is unknown or is based solely on patters of behavior.'"

This amendment seems like common sense and basic morality. One should not drop a bomb on someone unknown simply because they are exhibiting suspicious behavior. This amendment should have been a slam dunk. It would help America maintain some level of moral high ground, protect innocent life, and focus attention on more dangerous targets. However, the amendment failed the House on a voice vote.

While I am not an expert in parliamentary procedure, it would appear that the number of men and women willing to raise their voices in support of this amendment was not even enough to bring the issue to a roll call vote. Ironically, speaking out against Kucinich's amendment was Adam Smith, the same man who sided with Justin Amash on civilian trials. Where are the courageous liberals who supposedly believe so strongly in civil liberties? Do they only believe in liberties for Americans, and not for the innocent foreign civilians killed by these strikes?  This is the country we have become. The Hill puts it this way:

"Now, American drones can take out targets where suspected terrorists could be at a certain locations, without confirmation of their actual presence."

Kucinich, Amash, and Smith are just a few of the advocates of greater freedom at home and abroad. While these men draw the line of government power at different points, they all advocate for greater respect for human life and liberty than exists in the current system. Independent voters need to look at more than just party affiliation.

Some Republicans support broad protection for innocent civilians and suspected terrorists. Many Democrats do as well. But the traditional image of Republican war hawks and Democratic civil libertarians is just a stereotype. The Obama administration on the "left" has been a strong advocate of drone strikes in countries across the world, and has supported indefinite detention in the National Defense Authorization Act, while libertarian-minded Republicans like Ron Paul are trying to bring civil liberties back to the "right." Both parties have gotten us where we are today, and independent voters need to support politicians like Kucinich and Amash who will preserve American ideals. Human lives and liberties  matter more than partisan labels.

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