A coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans backed an amendment that said the government cannot detain a U.S. citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial even with the authorization to use military force or a declaration of war.
The Senate voted 67-29 in support of the measure sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah. The strong bipartisan approval sets up a fight with the House, which rejected efforts to bar indefinite detention when it passed its bill in May.
Ignoring a White House veto threat, the Senate also voted Thursday to add to its restrictions on President Barack Obama's authority in dealing with terror suspects.
Lawmakers approved an amendment that would prevent the transfer of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to prisons in the United States. The vote was 54-41, with several Democrats vulnerable in the 2014 elections voting with Republicans.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., argued that the 166 terror suspects, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-styled mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, should remain at the U.S. naval facility and not be transferred to any facility on American soil.
Responding to Ayotte, Feinstein 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.
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.
Last year, Congress' approach to handling terror suspects divided Republicans and Democrats, pitted the White House against lawmakers and drew fierce opposition from civil liberties groups.
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.
That generated a conservative backlash as well as outrage among civil liberties groups.
In arguing for her amendment, 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 national security threats.
House Republicans indicated they would stand firm.