AJE - US president signs controversial defence bill
- AJE - Aljazeera -
01 Jan 2012
US president signs controversial defence bill
Barack Obama signs into law new provisions regarding counterterrorism
and fresh sanctions against Iran.
Last Modified: 01 Jan 2012 04:44
Barack Obama, the US president, has signed a wide-ranging defence bill
into law, putting into place new provisions that regulate the detention,
interrogation and prosecution of those suspected of terrorism, as well
as imposing fresh sanctions on Iran.
In a statement accompanying his signature to the $662bn bill, Obama said
that he was signing it despite having "serious reservations" about the
provisions relating to terrorism, contending that politicians in the US
congress were attempting to restrict the ability of counterterrorism
officials to protect the country.
He argued that recent US successes against al-Qaeda had been possible
because counterterrorism authorities had benefited from flexibility on
dealing with suspects, which he said the bill called into question.
Administration officials said that Obama only signed the measure on
Saturday because certain minimally acceptable changes had been made to
the controversial bill that allowed the president's office to retain
certain overarching powers.
Obama's signature caps months of wrangling over how to handle captured
terrorism suspects without violating US constitutional rights. The White
House initially threatened to veto the legislation unless certain
changes were made.
Among the modifications made at the last minute were the striking of a
provision that would have eliminated the executive branch's authority to
use civilian courts to try foreign nationals in terrorism cases.
The new law now requires military custody for any suspect who is
allegedly a member of al-Qaeda or "associated forces" and involved in
planning, or attempting to carry out, an attack against the US or its
The president, or a designed subordinate, has the power to waive the
military custody requirement by certifying to congress that such a move
would be in the interest of national security.
The White House also pushed politicians to change a provision that would
have denied US citizens suspected of terrorism the right to trial and
could have subjected them to indefinite detention.
Congress eventually dropped the military custody requirement for US
citizens and lawful US residents.
"My administration will not authorise the indefinite military detention
without trial of American citizens," Obama said in the signing statement.
"Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important
traditions and values as a nation."
Despite the changes, officials say serious concerns remain about the
implications of the law.
Robert Mueller, the director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation,
has said that the measure would inhibit his agency's ability to persuade
those suspected of involvement in terrorism to co-operate immediately
and provide critical intelligence.
New Iran sanctions
The bill also imposed tough new sanctions against Iran's central bank
and financial sector, marking the sharpest economic confrontation
between Washington and Tehran yet.
Officials said Obama signed the bill despite concerns it could
complicate his bid to build an international front against Iran.
The sanctions require foreign firms to make a choice between either
doing business with Tehran's oil and financial sectors or central bank,
or with the US economy and financial sector.
Foreign central banks which deal with the Iranian central bank on oil
transactions could also face similar restrictions under the new law,
which has sparked fears of damage to US ties with Russia and China.
Obama said in a statement issued as he signed the bill that he was
concerned the measure would interfere with his constitutional authority
to conduct foreign relations by tying his hands in dealings with foreign
The bill, which passed with wide majorities in Congress, did reserve
some flexibility for Obama, granting him the power to grant 120 day
waivers if he judges it to be in the national security interests of the US.
Senior US officials said Washington was engaging with its foreign
partners to ensure the sanctions can work without harming global energy
markets, and stressed the US strategy for engaging with Iran was
unchanged by the bill.
Earlier on Saturday, a European Union foreign policy spokesman said the
bloc was open to meaningful talks with Iran provided there are no
preconditions on the Iranian side.
The EU statement was in response to remarks by Ali Reza Sheikh Attar,
the Iranian ambassador to Germany, who announced that Iran's top nuclear
negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is to send a letter soon to the EU's foreign
policy chief to arrange a new round of negotiations over the country's
disputed nuclear programme.
EU foreign policy spokesman, Michael Mann, said in an email to the
Reuters news agency that Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief,
wrote to Jalili in October and had not yet had a response.
"We continue to pursue our twin-track approach and are open for
meaningful discussions on confidence-building measures, without
preconditions from the Iranian side," he said.
Attar did not say when the letter would be sent. His comments were
reported by the semi-official Mehr news agency on Saturday.
All talks between Iran and major powers, including the latest round in
January in Istanbul, have failed so far to achieve any tangible result.
The main reason is that Iran has constantly rejected the key Western
demand - suspension of its uranium enrichment plan as a sign of goodwill
until the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programmes are proven.