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People Will Die Unless Senate Acts on Afghan Proposal, McCain Says

Senate Republicans feud over detention policy, protecting Afghan translators

 Sen. John McCain (left) and Sen. Lindsey Graham oppose Sen. Mike Lee's efforts. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
 Sen. John McCain (left) and Sen. Lindsey Graham oppose Sen. Mike Lee's efforts. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Armed Services Chairman John McCain said Thursday that a fellow senator was “signing the death warrants” for Afghan interpreters by blocking an amendment allowing them to immigrate more easily.  

In a fiery speech on the Senate floor, the Arizona Republican berated Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, for holding up the special immigrant visa program for Afghan translators until the Senate agrees to consider Lee’s own amendment on detention of U.S. citizens.  

“Now we’re talking about the lives of men who have put it on the line for the men and women who are serving,” McCain said. “Don’t we have some sense of perspective and priority here? People are going to die, I tell the senator from Utah. They’re going to die if we don’t pass this amendment and take them out of harm’s way. Don’t you understand the gravity of that?”  

“This is a matter of life and death,” McCain said. “I appeal to the senator from Utah’s humanity.”  

Lee argued that his amendment, requiring Congress to declare affirmatively when an American citizen can be detained indefinitely on U.S. soil, was also important.  

“This is not a frivolity. this is not just some nicety. This is not just some parochial interest. This is a basic human rights interest,” Lee said.  

The dispute has effectively stalled floor debate on other key amendments to the defense authorization bill. An amendment pertaining to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was also blocked for a vote in the spat, and the Senate has yet to take up the question of expanding Selective Service registration to women.  

Lee said he supports the Afghan translator amendment offered by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, but is determined to get a hearing on his own proposal. He said he was discouraged from offering the amendment to the defense policy bill because of jurisdictional issues with the Judiciary Committee.  

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., objected to Lee’s proposal getting a vote, saying the detention questions have not seen a proper Senate hearing since 2012.  

“See this guy?” said Graham, waving a chart with a photo of (former al-Qaida figure) Anwar al-Awlaki. “President Obama put him on the kill list, and we killed him. Good. Well done, Mr. President. If you’re an American citizen and you go to Yemen to join al-Qaida, I hope you get killed, too.”  

Graham said if captured alive, individuals should be subject to interrogation.  

“What Senator Lee and others are suggesting is if this guy made it to America, came back to his homeland, we shot him on the steps of the Capitol and he survived, we’d have to read him his Miranda rights and we couldn’t hold him to find out what he knows about this attack and future attacks under military interrogation,” Graham said.  

Lee said he was not prepared to settle for a commitment from Graham to hold a hearing at a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  

“This is an interest that relates to some of the most fundamental protections in the United States Constitution,” he said. “When you say that you want to lock up American citizens detained on U.S. soil without charge, without trial, without access to a jury indefinitely, for an unlimited period of time, you’re complicated at a minimum the Fourth, Sixth, and the Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”  

 Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.


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