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N.H. House votes overwhelmingly to oppose indefinite detention by U.S. government

The New Hampshire House waded into national security policy yesterday, voting overwhelmingly to oppose sections of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that allow the federal government to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without trial.

The House was also scheduled to vote on legislation to ban armed drones from the state, and restrict the use of unarmed drones for surveillance, but that bill was tabled on a voice vote.

On a 337-15 vote, the House gave initial approval to the “New Hampshire Liberty Act,” which bars state officials – under penalty of prosecution “to the fullest extent of current New Hampshire law” – from helping implement two sections of the NDAA dealing with military detention of suspected terrorists.

Rep. Timothy Smith, a Manchester Democrat, told lawmakers the legislation is “not a nullification bill” and is “completely compliant with the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of New Hampshire.” Otherwise, there was no debate yesterday.

Since the bill involves criminal penalties, it now goes to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee for a second hearing before coming back to the Democratic-led House for a final vote. If it passes again, it will go to the Republican-led Senate.

The bill was introduced by Fremont Republican Rep. Dan Itse and endorsed, 16-0, by the House State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The bill as amended by the committee also “urges the attorney general to initiate or support any lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the detainment provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act.”

Congress passed the NDAA in December 2011 and it was signed into law by President Obama. But provisions that authorize the detention of terrorists by the military without charges or trial have proven controversial.

Obama, when he signed the act, said he would not use those powers against U.S. citizens.

“I want to clarify that my administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” Obama said at the time in a statement. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union has called those provisions dangerous nonetheless. Several states have taken up resolutions and bills critical of the NDAA, and on March 6, Michigan’s state Senate voted, 37-0, to pass a bill similar to the legislation endorsed yesterday by the New Hampshire House.

The conservative House Republican Alliance praised yesterday’s vote as a move to protect New Hampshire residents.

“We do not believe the federal government can lock up our citizens without just cause,” said Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican and one of the alliance’s chairmen.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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