Leon Panetta: New Detention Provisions Will Harm National Security

<a target="_blank" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/freshconservative/3854507676/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Fresh Conservative</a>/Flickr

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the bipartisan compromise mandating indefinite military detention of non-citizen terrorism suspects apprehended in the US would damage national security. 

The detainee provisions may “needlessly complicate efforts by frontline law enforcement professionals to collect critical intelligence concerning operations and activities within the United States,” Panetta wrote in a letter first reported on by the Associated Press, and “restrains the Executive Branch’s options to utilize, in a swift and flexible fashion, all the counterterrorism tools that are now legally available.” (The detainee provisions would also authorize the indefinite military detention of American citizens suspected of being members of Al Qaeda or an “associated force.”)

At a press briefing yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said Panetta had not yet recommended vetoing the bill. “He has not, to our knowledge, recommended to veto this,” Kirby said. “Again, he really—he wants to work with them as they move forward [on] this.” Critics of the bill contend that the administration’s skittishness in issuing veto threats suggests that the White House’s warnings about the bill’s detention provisions won’t be taken seriously by Congress. 

“If Congress is going to take the president seriously, it has to believe the president is prepared to use the National Defense Authorization Act as toilet paper,” says Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “If it’s not convinced of that, the president has given away his negotiating leverage.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that the armed services committee had altered the bill in response to the administration’s concerns:

The military custody provision has been changed to accommodate what I thought were some legitimate concerns of the administration…There’s been a criminalization of the war that makes a lot of members uncomfortable and this is congressional involvement that brings balance.

The Obama administration has largely maintained the trajectory of Bush-era policies on national security, and the detention provisions represent a substantial militarization of the Bush-Obama policy, not a return to the status quo ante. Moreover, the White House threatened a veto over similar detention provisions in the House version of the defense bill in May. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan blasted the detainee provisions in September, and Pentagon Counsel Jeh Johnson criticized them in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in October. Graham is concern-trolling the White House. 

“What has to happen is the president needs to express that this is something that they’re going to veto over, and make very clear that threat is real,” says ACLU Legislative Counsel Chris Anders. “These are provisions that really deserve a veto if they end up on the president’s desk.”

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.