President Barack Obama signed a $633 billion defense bill that tightens penalties on Iran and strengthens security at diplomatic missions worldwide, despite serious concerns about the limits Congress imposed on his handling of terror suspects.
In a statement, the president took issue with restrictions on his authority to transfer terror suspects from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the US or other countries. He also said the bill limits the military’s authority to transfer third-country nationals being held at a detention facility in Parwan, Afghanistan.
“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,” Obama wrote.
He said the section of the bill related to detainees in Afghanistan “threatens to upend that tradition.”
Obama promised when he took office four years ago to close the prison at Guantanamo, but congressional opposition from Republicans and some Democrats have prevented him from fulfilling that vow.
Obama insisted that he still believes that Guantanamo should be closed because operating the facility “weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and strengthening our enemies.”
The new sanctions on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions would hit its energy, shipping and shipbuilding sectors as well as its ports, blacklisting them as “entities of proliferation concern.” It imposes penalties on anyone caught supplying precious metals to Iran and sanctions on Iranian broadcasting.
The move to increase security at diplomatic missions worldwide comes after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya last year that killed the US ambassador there.
The new law also puts off the retirement of some ships and aircraft, and Obama warned that the move could force reductions in the overall size of the military as the Defense Department faces cuts in projected spending.
As suicides among active-duty soldiers have accelerated, the bill also allows a commander officer or health professional to ask if a member of the services owns a firearm if they consider the individual at risk for either suicide or hurting others.