After signing the defense authorization act this afternoon, President Obama issued a signing statement calling provisions banning the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees “a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to critical executive branch authority.”
The provisions ban the use of Defense Department funds to transfer Gitmo detainees to certain other countries or to the United States, including for trial.
“The prosecution of terrorists in Federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the Nation and must be among the options available to us,” Obama wrote. “Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our Nation’s counterterrorism efforts and has the potential to harm our national security.”
Obama also said that he would work to repeal the provisions and “mitigate their effects.”
“Despite my strong objection to these provisions, which my Administration has consistently opposed, I have signed this Act because of the importance of authorizing appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011,” he went on. “Nevertheless, my Administration will work with the Congress to seek repeal of these restrictions, will seek to mitigate their effects, and will oppose any attempt to extend or expand them in the future.”
Former President George W. Bush used signing statements to effectively void parts of laws he didn’t like. The Obama administration, however, says it plans to follow the new law.
“The President has made it clear that he’s going to follow the statute,” an administration official tells TPM. “He’s made it clear — as have our military commanders — that closing Guantanamo is a national security imperative. We’re continuing to review the provisions in the bill.”
The transfer ban, championed by Republicans and inserted into an omnibus spending bill by Democrats, is opposed by civil rights groups like the ACLU.
In applauding Obama’s condemnation of the ban, the ACLU suggests that the President could still use funds from other departments — such as the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland Security — to transfer prisoners.
The White House would not comment on such a move.