Friday, January 4, 2013
President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013 this week and, just as he did on last year's NDAA, issued a signing statement objecting to several provisions on separation-of-powers grounds. In characteristic language, the President said that he will implement those provisions "to avoid a constitutional conflict." This means, largely, that the administration will ignore them. But it's unlikely that the administration will act contrary to all of them.
Perhaps the most notable provisions restrict the President's use of funds to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay--either to the U.S. for criminal trials in regular Article III courts, or to other countries--or to house detainees in the U.S. Last year's NDAA also contained similar restrictions. These provisions--Sections 1022, 1027, and 1028--are designed to prevent the President from closing Guantanamo and detaining suspected terrorists in the United States; they effectively foiled the President's plans last year to close Guantanamo.
But another provision, Section 1025, new this year, similarly restricts the President's use of funds to transfer detainees out of the detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan. The President wrote,
That facility is located within the territory of a foreign sovereign in the midst of an armed conflict. Decisions regarding the disposition of detainees captured on foreign battlefields have traditionally been based upon the judgment of experienced military commanders and national security professionals without unwarranted interference by Members of Congress. Section 1025 threatens to upend that tradition, and could interfere with my ability as Commander in Chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities.
The President also objected to provisions interfering with his authority to conduct foreign relations and supervise the executive branch. As to the latter, Sections 827 and 828 enhance whistleblower protection for executive branch contractors. The President wrote, "I will interpret those sections consistent with my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees' communications with Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential."
Section 1034 requires the President to "transmit to the congressional defense committees a report by the Commander of the United States Strategic Command, without change, detailing whether the recommended reduction would create a strategic imbalance or degrade deterrence and extended deterrence between the total number of nuclear weapons of the United States and the total number of nuclear weapons of the Russian Federation." President Obama wrote, "section 1034 would require a subordinate to submit materials directly to the Congress without change, and thereby obstructs the traditional chain of command."