MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — Mitt Romney sidestepped questions Wednesday about whether he would have signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorizes the indefinite detention of terror suspects, including American citizens, saying he didn't have enough information on the law.
Responding to a question at a town hall style meeting at a large manufacturer here, the Republican presidential nominee said he will take a look "at that particular piece of legislation" and said that when it comes to the issue of indefinite detention he would try to strike a balance between protecting personal liberties and protecting the nation from terrorist attacks.
The NDAA, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama late last year, includes a provision, Section 1021, that free speech advocates have challenged in federal court, arguing the law is a dramatic expansion of executive power that would allow any president to threaten critics.
"I will not do things that interfere with the rights of our citizens and their freedoms," the former Massachusetts governor said. "At the same time, I support efforts like the Patriot Act and others to secure our nation from those who would attack us."
Mr. Romney also said that he would use every source of intelligence and every element of the country's security apparatus to safeguard Americans against attacks similar to the the recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, which led to the deaths of the U.S. ambassador there and three of his staffers.
"As to that specific piece of legislation, I'm happy to take a look at it, but I don't believe that this is a time for us to be pulling back from our vigilance protecting America and keeping us safe from the kinds of threats we face around the world," Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Romney, though, said in a debate during the GOP primary this year that he would have signed the NDAA as written — despite opposition from Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, and others who argued the law is unconstitutional.
"Yes, I would have," Mr. Romney said. "And I do believe that it is appropriate to have in our nation the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country, who are members of al Qaeda. Look, you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues but you don't have a right to join a group that is killed Americans, and has declared war against America. That's treason."
The question about the NDAA was one of several that Mr. Romney fielded during a stop here Wednesday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
The man who asked about the NDAA came prepared and read his question from a piece of paper.
"It's not every day I talk to the future president, so I figured I'd better prepare," the man told Mr. Romney after he stood with a piece of paper to ask him about the NDAA. "Section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act gives the president the explicit power to detain via the armed forces any person including us, U.S. citizens, for an indefinite period of time, without trial. Given that the NDAA determines the actual budget for the military, it's kind of politically risky to veto it. Would you have vetoed it because of that part of the bill that says 'Hey we can detain you no matter what,' and sent it back to Congress or would you have signed it?"
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