White House threatens veto of defense spending bill over detainee provisions News
White House threatens veto of defense spending bill over detainee provisions
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[JURIST] The White House released a statement of administration policy [text, PDF] on Thursday praising the work of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) [official website] on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 [SB 1867, PDF] but warning that President Barack Obama [official website] could veto the bill if it “challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, [or] protect the Nation.” The White House expressed serious concerns about provisions in the bill governing detainees, which would allow the military to have complete custody and control over terror suspects and grant authority to Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] over whether suspects should be tried in military or civilian courts. The provisions were approved on Wednesday [JURIST report] by the SASC in an unanimous vote after disagreements regarding the provisions had blocked their passage for months [CNN report]. In the statement the White House noted that the Obama administration has “serious legal and policy concerns” about the proposed changes to detainee policies, stating that the provisions would “disrupt the Executive branch’s ability to enforce the law and impose unwise and unwarranted restrictions on the U.S. Government’s ability to aggressively combat international terrorism.” The White House also warned that a section of the bill that would apply military custody requirements to certain individuals in the US “would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.” According to the Obama administration, the detainee provisions of the bill would “rebuild the walls” between intelligence, military and law enforcement professionals making it more difficult to prevent terrorist attacks. The White House also noted the administration’s willingness to work with Congress to address the concerns expressed in the statement.

The Armed Services Committee’s decision, which still must survive a vote in the full Senate comes on the heels of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] report [text, PDF] claiming that the US is diminishing its “core values” [JURIST report] with regard to various counterterrorism measures put in place during the 10 years since the 9/11 attacks [JURIST backgrounder]. To support this contention, the report cites to US policies regarding indefinite military detention for terrorism suspects, the use of torture on terrorism suspects and enemy combatants, racial and religious profiling, and domestic surveillance and wiretapping. The report posits that these policies run deeper than what is known by the American people, civil liberties continue to be violated in secret and that future violations are imminent. The ACLU acknowledged that the government has sought to cease certain questionable practices, citing President Barack Obama’s directive to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison [JURIST news report], but stated that other questionable practices remain “core elements of [US] national security strategy today.”