The White House Thursday threatened to veto the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act because of a series of provisions within the bill that mandate military custody for some terrorism suspects and prevent the administration from transferring detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“Any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the Nation would prompt the President’s senior advisers to recommend a veto,” the White House said in a statement.
The language over detention, which has divided Democrats on Capitol Hill, sets up a clash between the Congress and the White House over a bill that authorizes $526 billion for the Defense Department budget.
The human rights community welcomed the veto threat.
“The bill tosses out the most effective tool for countering terrorism — civilian law enforcement — and makes the U.S. military the world’s jailor,” said Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The administration has made clear that it will not let Congress take away safe, effective and legal counterterrorism tools.”
The administration argued that some of the measures proposed by Congress could upend the settled law that has emerged over the last decade on who the government can detain.
“The Administration strongly objects to the military custody provision,” the White House said, noting that it could apply to individuals inside the United States. That “would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”
The latest version of NDAA emerged from the Senate Armed Services Committee this week with amended detention provisions after the White House objected to the original version. But the measure continued to draw criticism from the White House and leading Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
But Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services committee, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican, said the measure preserves the administration’s ability to make different detention choices. And they urged the White House to back their efforts.
“While we understand that the administration is still not completely satisfied with the committee’s work, we have made many clarifications and modifications at the request of the administration to the detainee provisions as they were reported from the committee in June, and as a result we were able to report out the bill again this week with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 26-0,” McCain said Thursday.