WASHINGTON — Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye recently found themselves on opposite sides of controversial votes on how the United States should handle the detention of terrorism suspects, including American citizens.

The split occurred last week when the Senate had to vote on proposed amendments to the Defense Authorization Act, a major spending bill.

One amendment would have scrapped provisions that allow the government to indefinitely hold terror suspects without charge or trial, including those arrested in the United States. The other sought to clarify existing laws about detaining terror suspects so that only those captured outside of the United States could be held indefinitely. (Read opposing views from senators here and here.)

At the center of the debate is the question of whether accusing citizens of being terrorists gives the government the authority to hold them indefinitely without trial.

Akaka supported the failed amendment by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., that would have removed sections of the defense authorization bill that allow the government to hold individuals indefinitely without charging them. Inouye voted against removing the sections. The amendment failed in a 38-60 vote, with all but two of the “yea” votes coming from Democrats.

The senators’ votes were similarly divided on the amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would have banned American citizens from being held indefinitely without trial. Feinstein’s amendment failed 45-55, with all but three of the “yea” votes coming from Democrats.

Feinstein said she wanted to mandate military custody for suspects captured abroad — but not for those captured in the United States — as a way to stop the military from “roaming our streets looking for suspected terrorists” and resist the “constant push that everything has to be militarized.”

Senators who helped keep the detention provisions in place argued that they’re necessary for national security during wartime.

“This country is special because we have certain values and due process of law is one of those values,” Feinstein said. “And so I object. I object to holding American citizens without trial. I do not believe that makes us more safe.”

Both Akaka and Inouye ultimately voted to advance the overall defense bill, which was approved in a 93-7 vote. The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill, which still faces another major vote before it reaches the president’s desk.

Supporters of Feinstein’s and Udall’s amendments say that without them, there is a legal framework similar to what allowed the government to intern Japanese Americans during World War II. In an interview with Civil Beat, Inouye drew a distinction between Japanese internment and the bill he supported.

“If we’re going to put someone in jail, I want to make certain that there is some reason for doing that,” Inouye said. “Not because his eyes slant the wrong way or because his hair is kinky.”

Inouye also told Civil Beat that he is “not for” an individual being held without being charged, but a staffer with the American Civil Liberties Union said that’s “exactly what he voted for.”

“The thing that’s surprising there is that Sen. Inouye was the sponsor in 1971 of the Non-Detention Act,” said Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU in Washington, D.C. “This is a cornerstone statute saying that American citizens cannot be detained by the government unless Congress authorizes it. So that makes his vote for legislation with indefinite detention even more disappointing.”

A staffer with Human Rights First, a group that supported Udall’s amendment, said that Inouye’s comments appear inconsistent with his vote.

“If a senator does not support indefinite detention without trial, I think they should have been with Udall on that vote,” said Human Rights First advocacy counsel Raha Wala. “It’s a fair question to ask Sen. Inouye.”

Inouye explained that he believes the standards for detaining someone are “high enough” to where “you need a certain amount of evidence.”

A spokesman from Inouye’s office emphasized that in voting against the Feinstein amendment, the senator’s priority was to ensure that potential terrorists be held accountable, no matter where they’re plotting.

In explaining his vote to strip the provisions, Sen. Akaka outlined what he sees as grave implications for American civil liberties.

“We must ensure that our government has the tools necessary to deter and defend against terrorist attacks, but in doing so we cannot abandon the freedoms that define us,” Akaka told Civil Beat. “I have always fought in defense of preserving the privacy and civil rights of all Americans, and that is why I voted to ensure that Americans could not be held indefinitely without charge or trial.”

This isn’t the first time that Akaka and Inouye have been divided on issues related to civil liberties. In May, Akaka voted against extending controversial aspects of the Patriot Act, while Inouye voted in favor of doing so.

The Senate is expected to vote on a final version of the Defense Authorization Act that contains provisions related to detainees by the end of next week.

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