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Obama signs defense spending bill despite Guantanamo restrictions

US President Barack Obama [official website; JURIST news archive] signed [press release] the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA) [text, PDF] into law on Thursday. The bill, which authorizes appropriations for military activities for 2013, expressly prohibits using funds to transfer individuals detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST backgrounder] and also prohibits using funds to construct facilities in the US intended to house Guantanamo detainees. Obama signed the NDAA despite earlier indications that he may veto [statement, PDF] the bill, in part because of concerns over the Guantanamo detainee restrictions [Politico report]. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website], has criticized [press release] Obama for signing the bill, stating that he has "utterly failed the first test of his second term" by effectively ensuring that indefinite detention will continue and jeopardizing his ability to keep his promise of closing the military prison.

During his 2008 campaign for the presidency, Obama pledged to close Guantanamo Bay, and during his second day in office, he issued an executive order [text; JURIST report] directing the prison to be closed. However, in the face of congressional opposition [JURIST report], the Obama administration missed its self-imposed deadline to close the military prison, and, following the 2010 mid-term election, congress effectively halted [JURIST backgrounder] plans to close the facility. Thursday's signing of the NDAA will further hinder Obama's ability to close Guantanamo Bay, despite a recent report [text, PDF; JURIST report] from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) [official website] that Guantanamo detainees could be safely absorbed by prisons throughout the US. Forum contributor Jonathan Hafetz argues that Obama bears responsibility [JURIST op-ed] for the political missteps that prevented Guantanamo from closing and criticizes him for embracing the "larger detention system that Guantanamo embodies." Conversely, Forum contributor David Frakt agrees that the Obama administration is partially responsible, but believes congress is largely to blame [JURIST op-ed] for passing a "series of increasingly stringent spending restrictions which have made it virtually impossible to transfer most detainees out of Guantanamo."

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