White House drops defense bill veto threat after lawmakers rework detainee provisions

December 14, 2011

The White House on Wednesday withdrew its threat to veto a key defense authorization bill after lawmakers revised provisions related to the treatment of terrorism suspects.

“As a result of these changes, we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the President’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the President’s senior advisors will not recommend a veto,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Carney cautioned, however, that “if in the process of implementing this law we determine that it will negatively impact our counterterrorism professionals and undercut our commitment to the rule of law, we expect that the authors of these provisions will work quickly and tirelessly to correct these problems.”

The House voted 283 to 136 Wednesday night to approve the $662 billion measure, which is expected to clear the Senate on Thursday.

The White House had threatened to veto an earlier version of the measure, arguing that it would have required the military, rather than civilian law enforcement, to detain terrorism suspects apprehended on American soil. Administration officials also said that a provision granting waiver authority to the defense secretary was insufficient.

Lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services committees on Monday unveiled a revised version of the measure after meetings with administration officials, including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. The reworked bill gives the White House greater discretion over the implementation of the law and grants waiver authority to the president.

Human rights and civil liberties groups, which have said that the bill would allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens, on Wednesday urged President Obama not to approve the measure. Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement that if Obama signs the measure, “it will damage both his legacy and America’s reputation for upholding the rule of law.”

“The last time Congress passed indefinite detention legislation was during the McCarthy era and President Truman had the courage to veto that bill,” Murphy said. “We hope that the president will consider the long view of history before codifying indefinite detention without charge or trial.”

The measure also would freeze $700 million in U.S. aid to Pakistan and would apply new sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran in an effort to pressure the Tehran government to abandon its nuclear program.

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