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New Year’s Eve News Dump: Obama Signs Defense Authorization Bill

Greed. Lies. Torture. (image: twolf1)

The President signed the defense authorization bill today, appending a signing statement expressing concerns with the detainee measures in the bill. The White House had earlier stated they would not veto the bill, so this was no surprise.

“I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists,” Obama said in a statement accompanying his signature […]

“Ultimately, I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people,” Obama said in Saturday’s statement.

Responding to the White House’s concerns that the provisions would limit the flexibility of law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials, lawmakers added written assurances the bill would not affect existing waivers of the FBI or any other domestic law-enforcement agency. They also gave the president the authority to waive the military-detention provisions, and dropped language requiring military tribunals for all cases.

The problem with this bill was always about the codifying of indefinite military detention into the law, available for any future President to pick up and use. The vagaries of the language in the statute, which allows for detentions of people “associated” with Al Qaeda, and the burden on Presidential waivers to avoid military detentions rather than an opt-in kind of process, make the language extremely unadvisable from the standpoint of the civil liberties community. However, it’s important to recognize that the Obama Administration really was already in practice allowing for the indefinite military detention of terrorist suspects. They didn’t want language that hindered their counter-terrorism processes, particularly those of the FBI. That’s what they got out of the changes, so the codification really didn’t matter to them at that point. There are painfully few political actors in Washington opposed to this complete breach of the Constitutional right to due process.

A less-noticed portion of the NDAA imposes significant restrictions on Iran’s central bank, by banning financial institutions from doing business with it. This places a serious strain on Iran’s ability to process payments to sell their oil and gas. Iran responded to this policy by threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipping, which would impact 15 million barrels of Persian Gulf oil per day. The Administration holds the ability to waive the sanctions based on the global supply of oil and whether it can make up for oil Iran would be unable to sell. So I doubt this provision will have much impact, unless they want to use it as a lever for negotiations. Iran, in fact, made a proposal to the UN to reopen talks on its nuclear program with the West. So the waiver of sanctions could become a goodwill gesture if talks did restart.

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David Dayen

David Dayen