The White House has announced that President Barack Obama will sign the $607 billion "defense" bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on Tuesday, even though critics say he is tying his own hands and betraying repeated promises to close the U.S. military's offshore prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba before he leaves office in 2017.
The chamber approved the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a prohibition on relocating those held in the prison to the United States and imposes restrictions on transfers to other countries.
Obama's soon-to-be-released plan to shutter the notorious prison is expected to rely on moving roughly half of the 112 people who remain detained there to U.S. soil.
"By signing the NDAA with new restrictions on transferring detainees out of Guantánamo, President Obama will be making his job of closing the prison and ending indefinite detention harder," Christopher Anders, ACLU senior legislative counsel, told Common Dreams over email.
"The president is tying his own hands by agreeing to the NDAA, and it is now up to him to work harder to achieve this important goal."
—Christopher Anders, ACLU"If he truly wants a chance of closing Guantánamo, he has to order his administration to use all of the power he has now—that means charging in federal court any detainee who the government can prove committed a crime, and transferring abroad the vast majority of detainees who have never been charged with any crime," Anders continued. "The president is tying his own hands by agreeing to the NDAA, and it is now up to him to work harder to achieve this important goal."
Just three senators voted against the NDAA on Tuesday: 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Jeff Merkeley (D-Ore.). Meanwhile, 91 voted in favor, and six didn't cast their ballots.
Having already passed the House last week 370-58, the NDAA is next headed to Obama's desk. While the president has stated his disagreement with the Guantánamo Bay provisions, he is expected to sign the legislation.
Sanders, meanwhile, referenced the bloated military budget in casting his "no" vote.
"If we are serious about ending waste, fraud, abuse and excessive spending, we have got to focus on all agencies—including the Department of Defense," said Sanders in a statement released Tuesday.
"The Department of Defense is the only federal agency that cannot pass a clean audit," the statement continued. "Many of its major acquisition programs suffer from chronic cost overruns. Virtually every defense contractor has been found guilty or has reached a settlement with the government because of fraudulent and illegal activities. This has got to change."
Jasmine Tucker, senior research analyst for the National Priorities Project, told Common Dreams she also is "not thrilled" with the legislation's inclusion of a massive slush fund to give the Pentagon "money to do whatever they want with, with no accountability."
In addition, the legislation authorizes military aid to Ukrainian forces.
It also green-lights $715 million for Iraqi forces in combat with the Islamic State.