The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 was signed by President Barack Obama on Wednesday even though he threatened to veto it because of prohibitions on closing down Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
Advocates of civil liberties criticized the portion of the bill that permits the military to hold American citizens based on suspicions of supporting terrorism. Obama said he chose to pass the bill because it sets the budget for the military in fiscal year 2013 at $633 billion and was “too great to ignore.”
“President Obama has utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day,” American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement. “His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended.”
Shahid Buttar, the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said, “It’s the second time that the president has promised to veto a piece of a very controversial national security legislation only to sign it. He has a habit of promising resistance to national security initiatives that he ultimately ends up supporting and enabling.”
A minor change was made to the bill after Obama threatened to veto it back in November. The change was the shortening of the prohibition on transferring detainees from Guantanamo to the United States to just one fiscal year. In the original version of the bill from the Senate, the ban was open-ended.
In the signing statement released by Obama, he said, “Today I have signed into law H.R. 4310, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.” I have approved this annual defense authorization legislation, as I have in previous years, because it authorizes essential support for service members and their families, renews vital national security programs, and helps ensure that the United States will continue to have the strongest military in the world.”
The president also noted his opposition to restrictions placed on his decision to move prisoners from Guantanamo. An amendment to the bill regarding holding American citizens on American soil was removed behind closed doors.
“The president seemed to have nothing to say about that,” Buttar said. “The whole process, quite frankly, was a reflection of the worst parts of Washington — the institutional dysfunction, the lack of historical memory, the unwillingness to consider relatively limited reforms that would make these powers responsible and limited.”
The director of Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program, Dixon Osburn, said, “It’s not encouraging that the President continues to be willing to tie his own hands when it comes to closing Guantanamo. The injustice of Guantanamo continues to serve as a stain on American global leadership on human rights.”