WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed bipartisan legislation that would strengthen the United States’ national security laws by ensuring that the government can successfully investigate and prosecute nuclear terrorists. The bill was introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and cleared the Judiciary Committee by a sweeping 17-3 margin.
The bill implements three changes to federal criminal law that had been requested by both the Bush and Obama administrations on multiple occasions, most recently in 2011, but were not acted on by the committee until now. They were also omitted in House-authored legislation passed earlier this summer that created new offenses involving nuclear and maritime terrorism.
The first provision of the bill would allow the Department of Justice to go to court and obtain a wiretap if there is probable cause that a defendant is committing one of the new offenses.
The second provision would allow the newly-created offenses to be predicates for the separate crime of material support for terrorism. The provision helps to ensure that all who help plan, finance and aid terrorist attacks can be brought to justice.
The third, and final provision, would permit the Department of Justice to seek the death penalty, in appropriate cases, for terrorists who commit acts of nuclear and maritime terrorism that kill Americans.
“The recent terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad show just how vulnerable our country is. These are complex attacks that are planned for months or even years,” Grassley said. “Nuclear terrorism isn’t just theoretical; it’s a very real threat. The government needs the ability to seek the death penalty for nuclear terrorists under the appropriate circumstances. It’s also common sense that we provide the government the ability to prosecute those who provide material support to these terrorists, including by financing them. And, it’s important that authorities have the capacity to seek lawful wiretaps, authorized by a federal judge, to investigate these terrorists. These are tools that were requested by both Presidents Bush and Obama that will help keep Americans safe.”
Two amendments expressing a “Sense of the Senate” were also added to the bill. The first recognized that excluding people from coming to America solely on the basis of their religion is contrary to the country’s founding principles. The second amendment recognized that the United States was not founded on religious liberty alone, and depriving Americans of other core constitutional rights, like the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, is also contrary to the country’s founding principles.