President Obama Signs Pentagon Spending Bill, Issues "Signing Statement" Opposing Provisions Banning Gitmo Detainee Transfer to US

President Obama today signed the Pentagon Authorization into law today – and issued a “signing statement” about the provision in the bill prohibiting him from transferring detainees from Gitmo to the US through the fiscal year that ends in September, and imposing tough restrictions on detainee transfer to other countries.

The restrictions were inserted by House Democrats into the Defense Authorization bill.

Unlike many of the signing statements taken by President George W. Bush that then-candidate Obama criticized and said he would not repeat as a policy matter, President Obama did not say he would not abide by the prohibition in the law.

Rather, he registered his strong opposition to it and said he would work with Congress to seek its repeal or at least prevent the ban from being extended past the September 30, 2011 end date.

Section 1032 of the Pentagon Authorization bill bans the use of defense funds from being spent on transferring detainees from Guantanamo into the United States. President Obama called that a “dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees, based on the facts and the circumstances of each case and our national security interests.” He said the prohibition, which was inserted by Democrats in the Senate, “undermines our Nation's counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security.”

The president also objected to Section 1033 of the act, which prohibits the use of some funds to transfer detainees to other countries unless certain conditions are met.

Those restrictions include requiring the Secretary of Defense to certify that the government of the foreign country receiving the detainee is not only not a designated state sponsor of terrorism, but that it:

  • “maintains effective control over each detention facility in which an individual is to be detained if the individual is to be housed in a detention facility;
  • “ is not, as of the date of the certification, facing a threat that is likely to substantially affect its ability to exercise control over the individual;
  • “has agreed to take effective steps to ensure that the individual cannot take action to threaten the United States, its citizens, or its allies in the future;
  • “has taken such steps as the Secretary determines are necessary to ensure that the individual cannot engage or reengage in any terrorist activity; and
  • has agreed to share any information with the United States about the detainee that “could affect the security of the United States, its citizens, or its allies.”

The president said the restrictions “interfere with the authority of the executive branch to make important and consequential foreign policy and national security determinations regarding whether and under what circumstances such transfers should occur in the context of an ongoing armed conflict. We must have the ability to act swiftly and to have broad flexibility in conducting our negotiations with foreign countries.”

Nevertheless, the president said he would sign the bill because “of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011.”

-Jake Tapper

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