White House reiterates threat to veto defense bill

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The White House said Friday it was standing firm on President Obama’s threat to veto a sweeping defense policy bill approved by the Senate over language dealing with the treatment and prosecution of terrorism suspects, one day after the Senate defied Mr. Obama and passed a provision giving the military first crack at detaining al Qaeda operatives.

White House spokesman Jay Carney accused the Senate of “political micromanagement” that jeopardizes national security and the work of counterterrorism professionals in fighting terrorists.

“Our position has not changed,” Mr. Carney told reporters at Friday’s briefing. “Any bill that challenges or constrains the president’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation would prompt his senior advisers to recommend a veto. So we’ll see how this progresses.”

The language in question gives the U.S. military the right to determine whether it should hold al Qaeda operatives, even if they are captured in the United States and are American citizens. It also reaffirmed the policy of indefinite detention without trial.

Sen. Carl Levin, a liberal Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, as well as 14 other Democrats and one independent who caucuses with them joined 44 Republicans in voting in favor of granting the military the first right of refusal when it comes to terrorism suspects. The language passed the Senate 60-38.

Mr. Levin and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who was Mr. Obama’s rival in 2008, struck a deal that gives the military the authority to assert custody of anyone who has planned or carried out an attack against the U.S. and its allies, or who is deemed to be a member of al Qaeda or one of its affiliates. The compromise gives the administration the authority to waive military custody, but only if top Cabinet officials certify that national security dictates civilian control.

The Senate and the House must work out the differences between their differing versions of the $662 billion defense bill before the end of the year. The version passed by the Republican-controlled House includes even more provisions that the administration opposes, including language requiring military trials for suspected terrorists and a ban on transferring terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay to the U.S., for trial or any reason. The House bill also limits the president’s authority in transferring detainees to foreign countries.

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