Posted by on January 03, 2013 in Blog

The President signed into law yesterday the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The news came as a disappointment to civil liberties advocates and a coalition of civil and human rights groups that called on the President to veto the bill.  The White House had threatened to veto the bill due to restrictions imposed on the President to close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. 

The latest version of the defense bill, which passed Congress on December 21 after top Republican and Democratic lawmakers met in a closed conference, was stripped of a provision that prohibits the military detention of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on U.S. soil. The NDAA House-Senate conference, led by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), convened to reconcile the two versions of the legislation. The Feinstein-Lee Amendment that was passed in the Senate on November 29, banned the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but was removed by the House-Senate conference committee on December 19, 2012.  

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a vocal opponent of the indefinite detention provisions in the defense bill, voiced opposition to the conference committee’s report: "We had protection in this bill. We passed an amendment that specifically said if you were an American citizen or here legally in the country, you would get a trial by jury," Paul said in a press statement released by his office. "It's been removed because they want the ability to hold American citizens without trial in our country. This is so fundamentally wrong and goes against everything we stand for as a country that it can't go unnoticed," said Paul.

Additionally, the 2013 NDAA prohibits detainees in Guantanamo from being transferred to the United States for prosecution and includes onerous conditions on the transfer of cleared detainees to foreign countries for either repatriation or resettlement, forcing the infamous detention center to remain open and leaving the fate of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo in question. Cases like that of Shaker Aamer provide an example. Mr. Aamer has been held at Guantanamo without charge for over a decade even though he has been cleared for transfer out of prison and despite numerous pleas by the British government calling for his release and return to London. Secretary of Defense Panetta and White House officials objected to the detainee transfer restrictions in a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, yet those restrictions remained in the final version of the bill. It’s unfortunate that Congress has once again stifled the President’s ability to fulfill one of his first pledges as president: to close Guantanamo once and for all.

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