President Obama signed into law a controversial $662 billion military funding bill titled the National Defense Authorization Act on New Year’s Eve.
Obama vowed to interpret the meaning of the legislation moderately and that he would not necessarily use all the powers granted to the executive branch under the new law. The new bill details how the military is to be funded and also expands the powers of the federal government in regards to the War on Terror to include indefinitely detaining terrorist suspects without trial – even U.S. citizens. The U.S. military now also has the authority to conduct anti-terrorism operations on American soil.
The law is considered by many to be extremely vague and therefore policy makers on both sides of the aisle are leery. Obama stated that he signed the bill into law with “serious reservations.”
“The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it,” the president said in a statement. “I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”
Initially, the provisions regarding arresting and detaining terrorist suspects prompted Obama to threaten a veto. In order to avoid this, Congress then added into the bill a provision that withdrew the military’s power to detain suspects and gave that power to the president.
In the statement, however, Obama hinted that he would not strictly follow certain requirements of the law and that he would not necessarily use all the powers granted to him.
“My administration will interpret and implement the provisions in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded," the statement reads.
However, the most controversial part of the bill, indefinitely detaining U.S. terror suspects, still raises concerns among many.
“Obama’s signing statement seems to suggest he already believe he has the authority to indefinitely detain Americans – he just never intends to use it,” Adam Serwer, a reporter at Mother Jones, writes.
“Left unsaid, perhaps deliberately, is the distinction that has dominated the debate over the defense bill: the difference between detaining an American captured domestically or abroad. This is why ACLU Director Anthony Romero released a statement shortly after Obama’s arguing the authority in the defense bill could ‘be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.’”
The fact that Obama signed the hotly contested bill into law on New Year’s Eve has sparked criticism within itself. Many civil rights advocates were angry that Obama would pass this bill on a day when many people were celebrating and not paying attention to politics.
"President Obama's action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement.
Romero continued, "We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court."
"Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today."
Obama has always been critical of his predecessor’s use of signing statements, saying that Bush misused his executive authority to bypass certain parts of the laws he did not like.
However, the Los Angeles Times points out that “Obama has made repeated use of signing statements, employing them 18 times in about the first 2 1/2 years of his presidency.”