White House Caves on Defense Bill Veto Threat

<a target="_blank" href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulk/3080299313/">Paul Keller/Flickr</a>


The President will not veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) over provisions codifying the use of indefinite military detention on American soil.

As I reported Tuesday, the latest version of the NDAA effectively rendered the provisions “mandating” military custody of non-citizen terrorism suspects arrested on US soil optional. The revised NDAA would make it possible for someone like convicted underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab to go from capture to trial without ever passing through military custody.

The changes were apparently enough to get the White House to back down from its veto threat, notwithstanding FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony Wednesday that the bill could still interfere with counterterrorism operations.

A statement from the White House press office states that “As a result of these changes, we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the Presidents ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the Presidents senior advisors will not recommend a veto.” The statement continues, “However, if in the process of implementing this law we determine that it will negatively impact our counterterrorism professionals and undercut our commitment to the rule of law, we expect that the authors of these provisions will work quickly and tirelessly to correct these problems.” Sure, the bill could undermine the rule of law and make Americans less safe, but it’s not like Congress has ever had a hard time handling urgent problems in a timely manner. 

This morning I wrote that by making the mandatory military detention provisions mandatory in name only, the Senate had offered the administration an opportunity to see how seriously it takes its own rhetoric on civil liberties. The administration had said that the military detention provisions of an earlier version of the NDAA were “inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”

The revised NDAA is still inconsistent with that fundamental American principle. But the administration has decided that fundamental American principles aren’t actually worth vetoing the bill over. 

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  • Adam Serwer is a former reporter at Mother Jones.