- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2011

President Obama’s senior advisers are recommending he veto a massive defense-policy bill over language governing the treatment and prosecution of terrorism suspects.

In a lengthy statement issued as the Senate began consideration of the $662 billion bill, the White House backed most of the defense measure, focusing its criticism mainly on the provisions dealing with detainees.

“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 advisers to recommend a veto,” Mr. Obama’s advisers wrote in the statement.

The veto threat was more nuanced than most, giving the administration room to negotiate before the final version emerges from the House and Senate conference process and still sign the must-pass defense bill.

The Senate began debate on the must-pass defense bill Thursday afternoon with a vote expected before Thanksgiving.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, offered an amendment that would target the Central Bank of Iran as punishment for that country’s persistent pursuit of a nuclear program.

“Iran remains undeterred, and the United States is left with fewer options for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program as time elapses,” Mr. McConnell said when offering his amendment on the Senate floor Thursday. “This, in my judgment, is one of the few remaining actions short of an embargo of Iranian shipping and military intervention to slow or end the Iranian nuclear program.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, also filed amendments on Thursday that would boost the penalties for cybercrimes and make it a felony to damage computer systems critical to national security.

Earlier this week, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee broke with Mr. Obama and struck a deal with Republicans on the detainee provisions. The Senate Armed Services Committee went on to pass the new language 26 to 0.

Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, signed off on a compromise with Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican, to allow the military to have custody of terrorism-suspect detainees except in cases where the administration makes “a national-security determination” to keep the detainee in civilian custody. That agreement allows for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to approve a transfer of a military detainee to civilian court for trial.

The deal carves out an exception for members of al Qaeda or their allies, but the White House only agreed to part of it [-] allowing the military to hold al Qaeda members captured outside the U.S. The administration disagrees with the committee’s decision to allow the military to hold al Qaeda members detained domestically.

Mr. Levin and Mr. McCain worked with the White House to try to address its concerns, and included the national security waiver, which he described Thursday as being “a mile wide,” in an attempt to win the president’s support. In the end, administration officials were not satisfied and refused to sign off on the deal.

“Broadly speaking, the detention provisions in this bill micro-manage the work of our experienced counterterrorism professionals, including our military commanders, intelligence professionals, seasoned counterterrorism prosecutors, or other operatives in the field,” the president’s advisers wrote in the statement.

Mr. Leahy, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who chairs the Intelligence Committee, expressed grave concerns that the latest detainee provisions are unnecessary and counterproductive, and would force the U.S. military to become a police force and serve as jailers, roles for which the services are ill-equipped.

Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, argued that Congress shouldn’t try to change the way detainees are treated because many terrorism suspects have been successfully prosecuted under current policy over the past 10 years. He introduced an amendment that would send the issue back to committee, require public hearings and more time to evaluate the revisions.

“It feels like to me we’re rushing hastily to address a solution in search of a problem,” he said Thursday on the Senate floor.

But Mr. McCain said Congress was forced to intervene because the detainee policies of Mr. Obama’s administration “have been a total and abysmal failure.”

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