Obama mentioned key points about the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016 that were up to snuff but spent most of his Thanksgiving eve announcement expressing his disappointment in Congress.
“As I have said before, the continued operation of this facility [at Guantanamo] weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” Obama said. “It is imperative that we take responsible steps to reduce the population at this facility to the greatest extent possible and close the facility. The population once held at Guantanamo has now been reduced by over 85 percent. Over the past 24 months alone, we have transferred 57 detainees, and our efforts to transfer additional detainees continue. It is long past time for the Congress to lift the restrictions it has imposed and to work with my administration to responsibly and safely close the facility, bringing this chapter of our history to a close.”
Obama noted that he vetoed the earlier version of the NDAA because it “failed to authorize funding for our national defense in a fiscally responsible manner. “
In addition to the provisions concerning Guantanamo, and the “inadequate” military funding, Obama said the vetoed bill “would have prevented a range of necessary military reforms.”
Congress was more successful the second time around, putting out legislation that “revises discretionary spending caps for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 by providing significant relief from sequestration for both defense and non-defense priorities,” Obama said.
“The agreement in place helps ensure that relief from sequestration is paid for in a balanced way,” Obama said. “The Congress has now revised the National Defense Authorization Act to incorporate these new funding changes and has altered the funding authorization provisions to which I objected. I am therefore signing this annual defense authorization legislation because it includes vital benefits for military personnel and their families, authorities to facilitate ongoing operations around the globe, and important reforms to the military retirement system, as well as partial reforms to other military compensation programs. It also codifies key interrogation-related reforms from Executive Order 13491, which I strongly support.”
Obama said he is “deeply disappointed” in the efforts Congress has taken to keep the detention facility at Guantanamo open.
“The restrictions contained in this bill concerning the detention facility at Guantanamo are, as I have said in the past, unwarranted and counterproductive,” Obama said. “Rather than taking steps to close the facility, this bill aims to extend its operation. Section 1032 renews the bar against using appropriated funds to construct or modify any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any Guantanamo detainee in the custody or under the control of the Department of Defense unless authorized by the Congress. Section 1031 also renews the bar against using appropriated funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States for any purpose. Sections 1033 and 1034 impose additional restrictions on foreign transfers of detainees — in some cases purporting to bar such transfers entirely. As I have said repeatedly, the executive branch must have the flexibility, with regard to the detainees who remain at Guantanamo, to determine when and where to prosecute them, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests, and when and where to transfer them consistent with our national security and our humane treatment policy.”
Obama noted that his administration will endeavor to implement the NDAA in a way that limits provisions that violate constitutional principles.
“Finally, I am also disappointed that the Congress failed to enact meaningful reforms to divest unneeded force structure, reduce wasteful overhead, and modernize military health care,” Obama concluded. “These reforms are essential to maintaining a strong national defense over the long term.”
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