Obama signs defense funding bill, objects to terror detainee provisions

President Obama signed a $662 billion defense authorization bill Saturday, but the White House attached a lengthy signing statement vehemently objecting to several provisions concerning the detention and prosecution of terror suspects.

The defense bill, which funds a wide range of security programs and sets Pentagon policy, calls for the mandatory military detention of al Qaeda terror suspects and requires a waiver to move them to civilian courts.

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"I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists," Obama said in a signing statement.

"Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people."

The antiterrorism language was supported by many congressional Democrats and Republicans, but earned a veto threat from the White House for limiting the president's flexibility in handling terrorism cases. 

The administration backed down from that threat, saying that the final bill’s updated language would not constrain the Obama administration’s counterterrorism efforts. The legislation passed the Senate on a 93-7 vote on Dec. 13.

The administration won some changes in conference committee, including the addition of a clause stating that FBI and local law enforcement counterterrorism activities would not be altered by the law. 

The president's signing statement said the administration will "interpret and implement the provisions ... in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded."

Civil liberties groups and libertarians object to the law because it allows for indefinite detention of suspects.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said Obama's signing of the law will be "a blight on his legacy."

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said last week the law will accelerate the country’s “slip into tyranny” and virtually assures “our descent into totalitarianism.”


Obama also objected to language that imposed sanctions on Iran's central bank. He wrote it "would interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations by directing the Executive to take certain positions in negotiations or discussions with foreign governments. Like section 1244, should any application of these provisions conflict with my constitutional authorities, I will treat the provisions as non-binding."

The administration had opposed the tougher sanctions in the bill, which helped spark Iran's threat this week to close down the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil passageway in the Persian Gulf.

This story was updated at 4:10 p.m.


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