President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 on Wednesday, giving his stamp of approval to a Pentagon spending bill that will keep Guantanamo Bay open and make indefinite detention for US citizens as likely as ever.
The president inked his name to the 2013 NDAA on Wednesday evening to little fanfare, and accompanied his signature with a statement condemning a fair number of provisions contained in a bill that he nevertheless endorsed.
The NDAA, an otherwise mundane annual bill that lays out the use of funds for the Department of Defense, has come under attack during the Obama administration for the introduction of a provision last year that allows the military to detain United States citizens indefinitely without charge or trial for mere suspicions of ties to terrorism. Under the 2012 NDAA’s Sec. 1021, Pres. Obama agreed to give the military the power to arrest and hold Americans without the writ of habeas corpus, although he promised with that year’s signing statement that his administration would not abuse that privilege.
In response to the controversial indefinite detention provision from last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced an amendment in December 2012 that would have forbid the government from using military force to indefinitely detain Americans without trial under the 2013 NDAA. Although that provision, dubbed the “Feinstein Amendment,” passed the Senate unanimously, a select panel of lawmakers led by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Michigan) stripped it from the final version of the NDAA two week later before it could clear Congress. In exchange, Congress added a provision, Sec. 1029, that claims to ensure that “any person inside the United States” is allowed their constitutional rights, including habeas corpus, but supporters of the Feinstein Amendment say that the swapped wording does nothing to erase the indefinite detention provision from the previous year.
“Saying that new language somehow ensures the right to habeas corpus – the right to be presented before a judge – is both questionable and not enough. Citizens must not only be formally charged but also receive jury trials and the other protections our Constitution guarantees. Habeas corpus is simply the beginning of due process. It is by no means the whole,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said after the Feinstein Amendment was removed.
“Our Bill of Rights is not something that can be cherry-picked at legislators’ convenience. When I entered the United States Senate, I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. It is for this reason that I will strongly oppose passage of the McCain conference report that strips the guarantee to a trial by jury,” Sen. Paul added.
Although the Pres. Obama rejected the indefinite detention clause when signing the 2012 NDAA, a statement issued late Wednesday from the White House failed to touch on the military’s detainment abilities. On the other hand, Pres. Obama did voice his opposition to a number of provisions included in the latest bill, particularly ones that will essentially render his promise of closing the Guantanamo Bay military prison impossible.
Despite repeated pleas that Gitmo will be closed on his watch, Pres. Obama failed to do as much during his first term in the White House. Thanks to a provision in the 2013 NDAA, the Pentagon will be unable to use funds to transfer detainees out of that facility and to other sights, ensuring they will remain at the top-secret military prison for the time being.
“Even though I support the vast majority of the provisions contained in this Act, which is comprised of hundreds of sections spanning more than 680 pages of text, I do not agree with them all. Our Constitution does not afford the president the opportunity to approve or reject statutory sections one by one,” Pres. Obama writes.
Congress, claims the president, designed sections of the new defense bill “in order to foreclose my ability to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”
“I continue to believe that operating the facility weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and strengthening our enemies,” he says.
Elsewhere, the president claims that certain provisions in the act threaten to interview with his “constitutional duty to supervise the executive branch” of the United States.
Before the 2013 NDAA was finalized, it was reported by the White House that Pres. Obama would veto the legislation over the provisions involving Guantanamo Bay. Similarly, the White House originally said the president would veto the 2012 NDAA over the indefinite detention provisions, although he signed it regardless “with reservations” on December 31 of that year.
Since authorizing the 2012 NDAA, the president has been challenged in federal court by a team of plaintiffs who say that the indefinite detention clause is unconstitutional. US District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed that Sec. 1021 of the 2012 NDAA violated the US Constitution and granted a permanent injunction on the Obama administration from using that provision, but the White House successfully fought to appeal that decision.
Commenting on the latest signing, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero says, "President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day.”
“His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended,” adds Romero. "He also has jeopardized his ability to close Guantanamo during his presidency. Scores of men who have already been held for nearly 11 years without being charged with a crime--including more than 80 who have been cleared for transfer--may very well be imprisoned unfairly for yet another year. The president should use whatever discretion he has in the law to order many of the detainees transferred home, and finally step up next year to close Guantanamo and bring a definite end to indefinite detention."