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Bipartisan testimony backs N.H. bill opposing indefinite detention of suspected terrorists

Republicans and Democrats alike urged a Senate committee yesterday to support legislation that would forbid New Hampshire officials from helping the U.S. military detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without trial.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the proposed New Hampshire Liberty Act came less than 24 hours after a pair of bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring 176 in what officials have called an act of terrorism.

“Today is a hard day for all of us. It’s the elephant in the room,” said Art Brennan, a retired superior court judge and anti-war activist.

Rep. Joel Winters, a Manchester Democrat, said those responsible for the attack in Boston should be tried by the courts, not held in secret or judged by military tribunals.

“What happened yesterday in Boston was a crime. It was a terrible criminal act, and it should be addressed through the criminal justice system,” Winters said. “And the idea that people who committed those bombings could be swept up and held indefinitely without charges is repugnant to the American way of life.”

The bill, introduced by Fremont Republican Rep. Dan Itse, passed the Democratic-controlled House on March 13 on a 337-15 vote, then passed again two weeks later on a voice vote in a slightly different form. It’s now before the Republican-controlled Senate.

It would require that the state “not provide material support or participate in any way with the implementation of Sections 1021 and 1022 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 within the boundaries of this state.”

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

The NDAA was signed by President Obama in December 2011. Sections 2021
and 1022 deal with the president’s power to detain suspected terrorists in military custody without formal
charges or trial in a civilian court.

Obama at the time said those provisions wouldn’t be used against U.S. citizens, but concerns and objections have been raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

A number of states have taken up bills or resolutions opposing the NDAA, including legislation similar to the bill proposed this year in New Hampshire.

Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican and one of the leaders of the conservative House Republican Alliance, yesterday noted Itse’s bill gained broad bipartisan support in the House.

And Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, said passing the legislation would “send a clear message that New Hampshire will not support . . . use of this sweeping military detention authority.”

The only opposition to the bill during yesterday’s 50-minute hearing came from the State Veterans Advisory Committee, which sent a letter saying the federal government should have broad authority to fight terrorism and that the NDAA already contains language to protect U.S. citizens’ rights.

The Judiciary Committee didn’t take a vote yesterday on the bill.

Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, hasn’t taken a position on the legislation.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to fully review the legislation, and the governor looks forward to hearing from legislators and all stakeholders as the process moves forward,” said Hassan’s spokesman, Marc Goldberg.

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

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