OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: GOP, Pentagon clash over death benefits

Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said last week that the Pentagon did not believe it had the authority to pay out the benefits under the pay law.

“We have some heart-rending situations — that we are not allowed, by law, to pay death gratuities,” Hale told reporters. “We've had a number of people die recently and we will be able to pay them, but not until the lapse of appropriation ends.”

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A senior defense official on Tuesday pointed to the fact Congress was drafting a new bill as evidence “Congress fully understands that DOD does not have the legal authority to provide these death benefits.”

A House GOP aide, however, argued lawmakers do think the Pentagon could pay out the benefits now but are passing a new law anyway.

“They feel like they need extra authority to make these families whole, fine, we’re happy to provide that,” the aide said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), meanwhile, was animated when asked about the death benefits, arguing the solution is for Republicans to pass a clean continuing resolution.

“They should be able to pay them out, and if the Republicans are serious about it, they’ll put a CR up for a vote in the House which allows us to get the government functioning again,” he said. “Otherwise you’re going to be arguing over every single legality of whether or not the government can do this or that under the existing law."

It’s unclear how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who referenced the benefits problem in a speech on ending the shutdown Tuesday, will treat the GOP bill. Reid allowed the military pay bill to pass by unanimous consent but has blocked mini-funding bills from the House for the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies.

A Reid spokesman did not respond to a request a comment on the GOP bill.

Al-Libi could hold key to Benghazi, says Graham: Captured al Qaeda leader Abu Anas al-Libi could provide U.S. intelligence vital information on last year's terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. 

Members of the Army's 1st Special Operational Detachment - Delta, also known as Delta Force, took the Libyan national into custody Saturday during a daylight capture mission in Tripoli. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that U.S. intelligence tagged al-Libi in Libya for two years prior to the strike on the diplomatic annex. 

"There is almost zero chance" the he does not have information on, or possibly played a role in planning, the deadly assault, according to Graham. 

The Benghazi attack, carried out by Islamic militants in Libya, ended with the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. 

But the White House is sacrificing the opportunity to get that intelligence by opting not to transfer al-Libi to the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. 

U.S. military and intelligence officials are interrogating al-Libi aboard a Navy warship in the region before remanding him into federal custody to stand trial. 

Under the rules of war, al-Libi can only be held for up to 60 days aboard the Navy ship before being handed over to the Justice Department. 

That is simply not enough time to uncover the valuable intelligence gained by al-Libi during his decades-long involvement with al Qaeda, Graham said. 

"The best tool for an interrogator is time," Graham said. "When you take time off the table ... you are [aiding] the enemy." 

Ayotte doesn’t drop Air Force hold: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she is not dropping her hold of Air Force secretary nominee Deborah Lee James after the initial response she received from the Air Force over cuts to the A-10 fleet.

Ayotte said the response she got from the Air Force was “inadequate,” and has asked for a follow-up before dropping her hold on James’s confirmation.

“If I get my answers, I’ll lift my hold. There were some of the initial answers that I didn’t think were sufficient,” Ayotte said Tuesday. “They’re basic questions. They should be able to ask them for me.”

Ayotte said she is not asking for assurances that the Air Force will not cut the A-10 fleet, which has been raised as one possibility to grapple with sequestration-sized cuts. But she said she wanted a clear picture so Congress could respond to any potential cuts.

More international inspectors head into Syria: A new team of international weapons inspectors is heading into Syria as part of an ongoing effort to destroy the country's chemical weapons arsenal. 

The team from the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is expected to arrive in country within weeks, the organization announced in a statement issued Tuesday.

The group of inspectors "will augment the advance team of OPCW experts, who have been in Syria since October conducting verification and destruction activities" of the country's chemical arsenal, according to the statement.  

“These developments present a constructive beginning for what will nonetheless be a long and difficult process,” OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü said in a recent progress report on the Syrian disarmament. 

The OPCW teams in Syria are working on behalf of the United Nations, which approved a U.S.-Russian plan earlier this year to eliminate chemical stockpiles held by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Üzümcü is expected to sign a "supplementary agreement" with the U.N. to "facilitate the provision of security and field and logistics support" for the disarmament program, the statement says. 

He provided no details as to when that agreement will be finalized. 

So far, Assad has complied with the terms of the U.N.-mandated disarmament deal, offering up a comprehensive assessment of his chemical stockpiles and allowing international inspectors into the country. 


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— Obama must consult with Congress on cyberwarfare, says lawmaker

— Obama declines to weigh in on legality of Somalia raid


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