WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Friday signed into law a sweeping defense bill that specifically thwarts his goal of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, then issued a "signing statement" against it.
It's the second time the president has enacted into law Congress' ban on civilian trials for any of the last 172 Guantanamo captives and, in an echo of his predecessor, George W. Bush, the second time he blasted it as "a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority."
Since the first time, in December, Attorney General Eric Holder bowed to the will of Congress and just this month overruled himself and decided to let the Pentagon, not his Justice Department, prosecute the five alleged 9/11 conspirators as mass murderers, chief among them confessed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been at Guantanamo since 2006.
This time, it was included in the $1 trillion "Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011," and Obama issued a written objection from the White House accompanying the bill with yet another pitch for the power to prosecute Guantanamo captives where the president sees fit.
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"The prosecution of terrorists in federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the nation,'' Obama said, "and must be among the options available to us. Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our nation's counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security."
The new law also includes tough new congressional mandates that Obama administration officials have said interfere with the effort to resettle captives abroad. Such captives are now cleared for release by what Pentagon officials call "enhanced" review processes, which considers each captive's future on a case-by-case basis.
During the Bush years, the Pentagon repatriated Guantanamo captives by the planeload. For example, it released some to the custody of Saudi Arabia, which subsequently revealed that 11 former Guantanamo captives had made a Saudi wanted list of extremists who fled the or were suspected of engaging violence.
Since then, Congress imposed even greater conditions on transfers which, Obama said, "would hinder the conduct of delicate negotiations with foreign countries and therefore the effort to conclude detainee transfers in accord with our national security."
(Rosenberg reports for the Miami Herald.)
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