Responding to Ayotte, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the United States not only can but has handled terrorist suspects, with 180 now languishing in super maximum prisons. Feinstein complained that the measure would erase the president's flexibility.
"I don't think the right thing to do is to tie anyone's hands," she said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., who had pushed for several of the provisions on terror suspects in last year's defense bill, said Ayotte's measure was "unwise in terms of our national security." He also warned that the provision was certain to draw a presidential veto.
In fact, the administration, in threatening to veto the bill, strongly objected to a provision restricting the president's authority to transfer terror suspects from Guantanamo to foreign countries. The provision is in current law.
The White House said the provisions were "misguided when they were enacted and should not be renewed."
Current law denies suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders, the right to trial and subjects them to the possibility they would be held indefinitely. It reaffirms the post-Sept. 11 authorization for the use of military force that allows indefinite detention of enemy combatants.
An unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans backed an amendment by Feinstein that said the government may not detain a U.S. citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial even with the authorization to use military force or declaration of war.
Feinstein recalled the dark days of World War II when the United States forcibly removed thousands of Japanese-Americans and placed them in permanent internment camps amid unfounded fears that they were spies and a national security threat.
Civil rights groups said the measure did not go far enough, but it was approved on a 67-29 vote with the backing of conservative Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.
The Senate eliminated one provision from the bill that had attracted White House objections. In a strong bipartisan vote Wednesday, senators voted to allow Pentagon investment in alternative fuels.
AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.