CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
May 25, 2011 – 4:50 p.m.
Detainee Vote Would Invite New Veto Threat
By Tim Starks and Frank Oliveri, CQ Staff
The House is setting itself for up for a fourth White House veto threat on the defense authorization bill with a terrorism detainee provision the chamber is expected to adopt Thursday.
The amendment would require all foreign terrorism suspects to be tried by military tribunals, and its addition to the fiscal 2012 bill would further inflame a confrontation between congressional Republicans and the administration over President Obama’s flexibility in the counterterrorism arena, a fight that began almost the moment he took office.
The measure (
The administration also issued veto threats over language on nuclear weapons and F-35 engines.
The tribunals amendment, offered by
“The reason they haven’t tried detainees in civilian court is because Congress has tied their hands by prohibiting the moving of detainees into the U.S.,” said a senior Republican aide. “This would put the House on record as favoring military commissions.”
The aide also countered the expected opposition from the administration. “The White House would argue that the reason their detainee prosecution policy is in disarray is because of Congress,” the aide said. “We are trying to create a system that would allow for the prosecution of terrorists. We believe the appropriate venue is the military commission system.”
Buchanan had introduced the language as a stand-alone bill (
“Terrorists with ties to known terror organizations such as al Qaeda should not be afforded the same constitutional protections as American citizens,” Buchanan said in a statement.
The feud over terrorism prosecutions began the first week Obama was in office, when he issued an executive order requiring the closure of the Guantánamo facility. In the years since, Republicans have stepped up their pressure on Obama to keep Guantánamo open, culminating in a ban in the fiscal 2011 spending bill (PL 112-10) on any agency using its funds for civilian trials of the facility’s detainees.
The Buchanan amendment represents an even more aggressive GOP posture toward the administration.
Some Democrats have fought for the Obama administration’s prerogatives on terrorism prosecutions, and the Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat,
Detainee Vote Would Invite New Veto Threat
“Clearly, it is beyond question or doubt that our Department of Justice and our federal courts can handle these types of cases,” Smith said in a written statement. “While I agree that military commissions should be an option in some cases, it should not be the only option.”
But the Buchanan amendment is expected to win support from Republicans and even some Democrats. Moderate Democrats have at times joined with the GOP to tie the president’s hands on terrorism trials.
“The administration wants to preserve its options,” a senior Democratic aide said. “More than 400 terrorists have been prosecuted in the U.S. court system. If included, the administration probably would issue a veto threat.”
The White House, in a statement of administration policy issued May 24, criticized the bill’s limitations on prosecuting Guantánamo detainees in civilian trials and on transferring detainees to foreign countries.
“For decades, presidents of both political parties — including Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush — have leveraged the flexibility and strength of our federal courts to incapacitate dangerous terrorists and gather critical intelligence,” the statement said. “The prosecution of terrorists in federal court is an essential element of our counterterrorism efforts — a powerful tool that must remain an available option.”
The bill also contains several other provisions related to the treatment of detainees, many of which the administration also indicated that it opposed.
One, a revision of a 2001 measure (PL 107-40) authorizing military force to pursue those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, would seek to define in law who can be detained. Critics of the provision argue that it would expand the existing war on terrorism, and Rep.
In its statement, the White House criticized the bill’s provision updating the 2001 law, saying that rather than “affirming” the existing conflict, it “would effectively recharacterize its scope and would risk creating confusion regarding applicable standards.”
The administration argued that the provision should be considered more carefully than it has been by the House.