In another example of the unambitious character of the United States Senate today, there has been a decision to not make a decision
about what limits ought to be placed on the war powers of the President in regards to American citizens. The Senate passed a major defense bill and voted 99-1 to make it clear that they were not taking a stand on the currently-ambigious rules around citizen detention. In the same thinking of "We have to pass the bill to find out what's in it", Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said that "We make clear that whatever the law is, it is unaffected by this language in our bill." Whatever the law is. Yes, our lawmakers do not even know what current law is regarding the right of the Executive Branch to detain or execute American citizens on American soil
without any due process or review.
Proponents of great powers for the Executive in war argue that we are now in a state of war and that the president has both the authority and the responsibility to exert his power to defend us. The problem is, though, that the Bush Administration turned its authorization to use force against Al Qaeda and those responsible for 9/11 into a general and ambiguous war on Terror itself, leaving it as open-ended and vague as the War on Drugs and the War on Poverty-- though much more dangerous, as it involves the Executive Branch using lethal force. There were no parameters set by either President Bush or Congress to define our goals, and thus the "War on Terror" is now the longest-running conflict in the republic's history. The Obama Administration has assassinated two Americans on different occasions so far this year--terrorist suspect al-Maliki and his teenage son--in the Middle East. There is an argument to be made in al-Maliki's case that they were enemy combatants in an active war zone, and thus the President was authorized to kill him. The current question is whether the Executive Branch has the power to executive or permanently detain in military jails American citizens who are suspected terrorists on American soil itself. This seems to be in conflict with both Posse Comitatus and Sections 2 and 3 of Article III of the Constitution.
We are fighting a new kind of war, that has been left open-ended for two presidencies now. It is hard to tell the difference between war time and peace time. If Congress is unready to yet figure out its role in when to decide when it is peace time and war time (since they have obviously decided to abscond from being involved in warmaking altogether, as evidenced by the Libyan intervention), they should at least look into what limits the President has on him within our own borders. We need clarification. The lawmakers need to do their jobs and decide what the law is.