Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) made the following remarks following passage of the Conference Report on the National Defense Authorization Act:
“Every day, we celebrate the courage, excellence and dedication to country of the brave men and women who stand on the frontlines overseas and here at home to help keep every American safe and secure. We have a solemn obligation to support the health and welfare of our troops and we will continue to provide them with the tools they need to do their job on behalf of the American people. However, the role our civilian-led military plays within the borders of the U.S. has always been balanced with the protections of civil liberties and civil rights. Unfortunately, the defense authorization bill that was approved by the House, and now the Senate, does not keep that balance.
“I strongly supported several amendments that would have limited the military’s authority on US soil. I could not vote for the final version of this bill because I see it as allowing for the de facto indefinite detention of suspects on U.S. soil. In addition, I believe anything that would extend the life of detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay unnecessarily sullies America’s human rights record.
“This legislation also handicaps our federal courts. Our federal courts – unlike military tribunals — have an excellent track record of trying the most dangerous criminals and terrorists in the world, and Congress should not tie the hands of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to use our Article III courts.
“Finally, I agree with the FBI Director, in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. Director Robert Mueller stated that by requiring certain terrorism suspects be held in military custody by default that uncertainty would be created at the time of arrest or apprehension. The FBI should have authority to conduct its terrorism investigations without having to suspend its work or turn a suspect over to the military prematurely, because the agents may not know whether a terrorism suspect is covered by the new language in this bill. I had hoped that during the conference process that the Congress and the Administration would have found a better solution to each of these issues.
“While I voted against the defense authorization bill because of both the detainee and Guantanamo provisions, I am pleased that the authorization gives certainty to our support for our national defense and military budget.
“This legislation also includes the Hotels for Heroes program. This initiative that I cosponsored with Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2) will allow Americans to help others who have given so much to our nation by donating hotel points. It builds on the Hero Miles airline program and is the next step in providing military families with the support they need when their loved ones are wounded or injured.
“I also was pleased with the reauthorization of the six-year reauthorization of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Those programs, so critical for Maryland companies, were last given extended authorizations more than a decade ago. Since those expired, the programs have been subject to repeated and painful, short-term extensions. The SBIR program is especially important because innovation spurs growth and job creation and leads to advanced technology, like clean energy and life-saving therapies and devices. Small firms employ 41% of the nation’s high-tech workers and generate 13 to 14 times more patents per employee than large firms. Maryland has approximately 440,000 small businesses. Eleven federal departments participate in the SBIR program – including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and National Science Foundation – allocating 2.5 percent of their extramural research and development dollars the program.”