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Senate compromise on detainees faces White House veto threat

November 17, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey
(Joe Skipper / Reuters )

A bipartisan Senate compromise regarding proper handling of detainees has drawn a veto threat from the White House and sharp criticism from other Senate Democrats.

The Obama administration on Thursday said it would reject a series of provisions on detainees for the defense authorization bill.

"In their current form, some of these provisions disrupt the executive branch's ability to enforce the law and impose unwise and unwarranted restrictions on the U.S. government's ability to aggressively combat international terrorism," the administration wrote in a statement. "Other provisions inject legal uncertainty and ambiguity that may only complicate the military's operations and detention practices.

"Any bill that challenges or constrains the president's critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation would prompt the president's senior advisors to recommend a veto."

At issue is a compromise negotiated this week between Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) The deal mandates that people determined to be aiding Al Qaeda be detained by U.S. military rather than civilian authorities.

The deal also affirms the government's ability to hold those terrorism suspects without trial indefinitely, although it does require a process for federal judicial review. The bill does not mention how such a process would apply to U.S. citizens.

The administration warned that the language could "open a whole new series of legal questions that will distract from our efforts to protect the country."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) said she found parts of the legislation "terribly imperious" and the indefinite detainee language especially troubling.

"I don't care who they are, they have certain rights as a U.S. citizens," Feinstein said.

Supporters argued that the provisions were misunderstood.

The dispute over the provision has been holding up the defense bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has suggested he’d like to pass the bill before the Thanksgiving recess.

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