A bit of a parlor game has broken out over whether Obama really means his veto threat over the detainee provisions of the Defense Authorization. Josh Gerstein weighed in here, including a quote from John McCain accusing the Administration of ratcheting up the stakes.
It’s also clear that, whether for political reasons or due to some complex internal dynamics, the administration seems at this point willing to put up more of a public fight over detainee-related strictures than it has in the past. However, whether that will ultimately translate to a willingness to blow up the defense bill with a veto is unclear. At least some lawmakers seem to view the threats as bluster, in light of the president’s track record.
As McCain said Thursday: “The administration ratcheted up the stakes…with a threat of a veto. I hope they are not serious about it. There is too much in this bill that is important to this Nation’s defense.”
The veto threat is probably tied to the new AUMF language
But I think Gerstein has the dynamic wrong–and his claim that this veto threat represents more public fight than he has shown in the past is flat out wrong. You see, Gerstein’s making the claim based on the assertion that the fight is over the Administration’s authority to move and try detainees as it sees necessary.
In the past three years, President Barack Obama’s administration has been in numerous public skirmishes with Congressional Republicans over legislation intended to limit Obama’s power to release Al Qaeda prisoners, move them to the U.S. and decide where they should face trial.
A couple of thoughts on the dust-up: Obama has already signed legislation putting limits on releases of detainees. While officials said at the time that the White House would oppose similar proposals in the future, it is clear that as a practical matter those limits have now become the baseline for those in Congress. [my emphasis]
Gerstein’s right that Obama stopped short of vetoing the Defense Authorization last year, which had those limits, instead issuing a signing statement.
Despite my strong objection to these provisions, which my Administration has consistently opposed, I have signed this Act because of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011.
Nevertheless, my Administration will work with the Congress to seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future.
And Obama didn’t issue a veto threat on similar restrictions place on DHS funding.
But Obama has issued a veto threat on “detainee and related issues” before–on Buck McKeon’s version of the Defense Authorization in May. That version added a couple of things to last year’s Defense Authorization: More limits on when the government can use civilian courts to try terrorists, limits on the detainee review system beyond what Obama laid out in an Executive Order last year.
And this language:
Congress affirms that—
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 15 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who—
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President’s authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 3 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.
The current bill is less harsh on several counts than McKeon’s language: it includes a series of waivers to bypass military detention and lets the Administration write procedures for determining who qualifies as a terrorist. While these loopholes require the Administration to do more paperwork, they still allow it to achieve the status quo if it does use those loopholes.
But it still includes very similar to McKeon’s defining this war.
Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.