It really looks like the White House is prepared to veto the defense authorization bill, adding on to Congress’ woes at the end of a tumultuous year.
FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, and he declared the defense authorization bill, which contains provisions essentially mandating indefinite military detention of non-citizen (and potentially citizen) terrorist suspects, to be unacceptable.
“The drafters of the statute went some distance to resolving the issue related to our authority but the language, but did not really fully address my concerns…,” Mueller said during questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who opposes the detainee-related language in the bill. “I was satisfied with part of it with regard to the authority, I still have concerns and uncertainties that are raised by the statute.”
Mueller said he fears that the legislation would muddle the roles of the FBI and the military.
The bill “talks about not interrupting interrogations, which is good, but gaining cooperation is something different than continuing an interrogation,” Mueller said. “My concern is that…you don’t want to have FBI and military showing up at the scene at the same time on a covered person [under the law], or with a covered person there may be some uncovered persons there, with some uncertainty as to who has the role and who’s going to do what.”
Mueller made the comments despite changes to the bill that attempted to give the Administration several loopholes to bypass indefinite military detention on a case-by-case basis. So coming after the conference committee report, it looks like the White House counter-terrorism advisers will recommend a veto. It’s highly unlikely to believe that Mueller was freelancing here.
As we’ve discussed, this does not reflect a White House uncomfortable with statutory indefinite military detention. The Administration opposes the bill because it would put too MANY constraints on their counter-terrorism activities. They would prefer to exist in a legal gray area, without binding rules on indefinite detention. In this case, Mueller appears upset that the military would get first crack at these terrorist suspects rather than the FBI. So there is no nobility here. But the result could be the one civil liberties defenders advocate: a veto of the NDAA.
Let’s just review where we’re at, then. The government could shut down on Friday. The parties are far apart on a bill to avoid the expiration of a payroll tax reduction and extended unemployment benefits, both of which would create a fiscal drag of up to 1% of GDP. Doctors will see a 27% cut in their reimbursement rate for Medicare on January 1 if nothing is done. And the one area where the parties agree, this defense authorization bill, is likely to draw a Presidential veto.
It’s such a wonder why Americans hold no faith in their government.