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More could be deemed enemy combatants under bill

Vicki Allen / Reuters | September 26 2006

The United States could detain more foreigners as enemy combatants under legislation Congress is expected to debate this week after a last-minute change in the bill, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

Democrats complained that Republicans quietly made several changes to the bill defining procedures for trying foreign terrorism suspects after an agreement last week between the White House and a group of dissident Republican senators.

"There are significant changes," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. He said the new elements would complicate efforts to push the bill through Congress before lawmakers leave this weekend to campaign for November elections.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key negotiator on the bill, said enemy combatants would now include those who provided money, weapons and other support for terrorist groups as well as those involved in actual operations.

Graham of South Carolina said the term "enemy combatant" also would apply to those fighting a U.S. ally.

"We're making sure that an enemy combatant could be defined as something other than a front-line troop," Graham said. "We want to make sure that giving material aid and support to terrorism would put you in the enemy combatant category."

He added that U.S. citizens could not be deemed enemy combatants under the bill.

The Bush administration has declared the detainees held at the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most of whom were picked up in Afghanistan, to be enemy combatants who can be detained indefinitely.

Levin said he opposed the new definition because it was too broad. "You can identify anyone anywhere as an enemy combatant, and their rights would be severely restricted whether or not you captured them on a battlefield," he said.

Levin said the bill's provisions allowing defendants some access to classified evidence had also changed and his staff was analyzing the latest wording.

"Clearly, changing this critically important bill at the last moment, changing the definition of those who will be affected by it, is going to have an impact on our decision in the Senate," said Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin.

"We want those who would threaten the United States to be held and detained as long as they are a threat to the United States. But we believe in fundamental fairness too," he said.

Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee had told Democrats that only technical changes had been made to the bill. His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, said Democrats would not try to hold up the bill, but were demanding a chance to offer amendments.

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