“We’re at war with a radical ideology that hates everything that we stand for,” said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a public statement Tuesday. “As a matter of fact, radical Islam is regenerating. And the way they are coming after us, is to find people in our own backyard and turn them against us.”
Graham joined with other conservative legislators John McCain (Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) calling upon the Obama administration to take a more aggressive militaristic response to domestic terrorism in the wake of the Boston bombings and shooting that killed four and resulted in the injuries of more than 200.
Liberals, libertarians and Muslim-American groups, already opposed to extensive surveillance, worry that expanding militaristic responses will hurt civil liberties in the U.S. Speaking from the Senate floor, the trio urged said the U.S. government should expand the definition of an enemy combatant to include any domestic terrorist inspired by “radical Islam.”
“I think that a lot of stereotypes are that Muslims are violent or terrorists or criminals,” said Rugiatu Conteh, the communications and outreach director for the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in a statement. “When a suspect in a crime or act of terrorism is Muslim I think for a lot of people, it kind confirms those stereotypes.”
Currently, the Obama administration treats an enemy combatant as someone without U.S. citizenship fighting U.S. forces abroad. The definition could change considerably as conservative legislators attempt to suspend due process and habeas corpus for U.S. citizens accused of engaging in terrorism through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and other legislation.
Some accused of being enemy combatants have spent years at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility without charge or trial, including Shaker Aamer, a resident of the U.K. who has spent 11 years behind bars despite being cleared for release in 2007.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the lone surviving Boston bomber, was already read his Miranda rights and appears to be in line for a trial in a civilian court, much to the chagrin of McCain and others who advocate for the use of military tribunals in cases of terrorism. If convicted on all counts, he could face the death penalty for his role in the attacks earlier this month.
“Ultimately, the broader question is whether you view the United States as part of the battlefield in the global fight against terrorists,” McCain said. “I know that some don’t. I, however, don’t see how we can avoid this fact … we cannot afford to build a wall between the fight against terrorists abroad and the fight against terrorists who are trying to attack us here at home, including when American citizens are involved in this fight, as some clearly are and will continue to be.”
This sentiment was echoed by Senator Ayotte, saying, “We have to acknowledge we are at war with radical Islamic jihadists that are seeking to kill us not for anything we’ve done, but for what we believe in and what we stand for,” she said.
Civil liberties groups worry that taking the battlefield to U.S. soil could result in the use of unmanned drones for surveillance and even for lethal missions targeting citizens accused of terrorism.
“My firm opinion is that these drone attacks, these targeted killings are illegal — period. They are unlawful whether they are carried out against a U.S. citizen or a non-U.S. citizen,” said Marjorie Cohn, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law to Mint Press News.
Drone surveillance has grown considerably during the Obama administration and could increase if legislators continue to fund the expansion of the program.
An FAA report from last month shows that 81 police departments and universities are among the applicants seeking to fly drones in the future. Police departments in Little Rock, Ark., Gadsden, Ala., Miami, Fla., Ogden, Utah and Seattle, Wash., among others, are seeking to use drones for surveillance and crowd control.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also announced last month that there could be as many as 10,000 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or “drones” flying in U.S. airspace by 2020. The assessment comes from a recent FAA study of current aeronautical trends up to 2032.