The White House on Friday accused the Democratic-controlled Senate of "political micromanagement" at the expense of national security after it approved legislation requiring military custody of suspected terrorists, even those captured within the U.S., and indefinite detention of some without trial.
In a statement, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor renewed the White House threat of a presidential veto of the sweeping $662 billion defense bill that includes the far-reaching policy changes on how to handle suspected terrorists. The Senate voted 93-7 Thursday night for the legislation.
Vietor pointed out that counterterrorism experts from Republican and Democratic administrations had said the provisions would restrict the president's authority in the fight against al-Qaida and jeopardize national security.
"By ignoring these non-partisan recommendations, including the recommendations of the secretary of defense, the director of the FBI, the director of national intelligence and the attorney general, the Senate has engaged in political micromanagement at the expense of sensible national security policy," he said.
The Senate bill must be reconciled with a House-passed version in the closing days of the session. The administration opposes provisions in the House bill that would require military commissions for suspected terrorists and limit the president's authority to transfer terrorist suspects from the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to installations in the United States, even for trial. It also would make it difficult for the administration to move detainees to foreign countries.
Overall, the Senate bill would authorize money for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Reflecting a period of austerity and a winding down of decade-old conflicts, the bill is $27 billion less than President Barack Obama requested and $43 billion less than Congress gave the Pentagon this year.
In a resounding vote, the Senate unanimously backed an amendment to impose harsh sanctions on Iran as fears about Tehran developing a nuclear weapon outweighed concerns about driving up oil prices that would hit economically strapped Americans at the gas pump.
"Iran's actions are unacceptable and pose a danger to the United States and the entire world," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
In an escalating fight with the White House, the bill would ramp up the role of the military in handling terror suspects. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller both oppose the provisions as does the White House, which said it cannot accept any legislation that "challenges or constrains the president's authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation."
The bill would require military custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates and involved in plotting or committing attacks on the United States. American citizens would be exempt. The bill does allow the executive branch to waive the authority based on national security and hold a suspect in civilian custody.
The legislation also would deny suspected terrorists, even U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders, the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention.
The series of detention provisions challenges citizens' constitutional rights, tests the boundaries of executive and legislative branch authority and sets up a confrontation with the Democratic commander in chief. Civil rights groups fiercely oppose the bill.
"The bill is an historic threat to American citizens and others because it expands and makes permanent the authority of the president to order the military to imprison without charge or trial American citizens," said Christopher Anders, ACLU senior legislative counsel.
The bill reflects the politically charged dispute over whether to treat suspected terrorists as prisoners of war or criminals. The administration insists that the military, law enforcement and intelligence agents need flexibility in prosecuting the war on terror after they've succeeded in killing Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.
Republicans counter that their efforts are necessary to respond to an evolving, post-Sept. 11 threat, and that Obama has failed to produce a consistent policy on handling terror suspects.
On Iran, Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., had widespread bipartisan support for their amendment, which would target foreign financial institutions that do business with the Central Bank, barring them from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States. It would apply to foreign central banks only for transactions that involve the sale or purchase of petroleum or petroleum products.
The sanctions on petroleum would only apply if the president determines there is a sufficient alternative supply and if the country with jurisdiction over the financial institution has not significantly reduced its purchases of Iranian oil.
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