By Adam Levine
After initially threatening a veto, the White House has issued a statement saying changes made by the House and Senate regarding controversial detainee provisions are sufficient and advisors will no longer advise the president to veto the 2012 Defense Authorization bill if it passes the House and Senate.
The detainee provision sought to codify rules that would mandate that the military would hold in custody and try terror suspects. That concerned the White House and many lawmakers who think the responsibility belongs, in part, to law enforcement agencies and the federal courts and warned that Americans could possibly be detained indefinitely by the military.
The White House reversal comes on the same day that the FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate committee hearing that while some of the changes are helpful, the provisions regarding what happens at the time of an arrest "lack clarity" and did not address all of his concerns about the ability to gain cooperation after an arrest.
"It lacks clarity with regard to what happens if - we had a case in Lackawanna, New York, and an arrest has to be made there and there's no military within several hundred miles," Mueller said.
Mueller said it is an issue too when FBI and military can both be on the scene.
"My concern is that you do not want to have FBI agents and military showing up at the scene at the same time on a covered person or with a covered person. There may be some uncovered persons there with some uncertainty as to who has the role and who is gonna do what," Mueller noted.
Mueller said he understands the president could waive the provision if need be and procedures will be established but "procedures can change. Procedures can be controversial."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the legislation includes a "national security waiver" that allow the president to transfer a suspect from military to civilian custody if he chooses.
The legislators also agreed on tough sanctions language for the Iranian Central Bank, aimed at punishing Iran for its nuclear program. The White House had expressed opposition to that provision as well, but it received broad support in Congress.
The measure "will put real additional pressure on the Iranians so they are going to pay a bigger and bigger price, if they continue to move towards nuclear weapons," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In addition, legislators agreed to tough new restrictions on Pakistan to ensure that country is not participating in the manufacture and transport of improvised explosive devices - those hidden bombs that have caused havoc for coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"We've had some shaky relations with Pakistan lately. We need them, and they need us," said Rep. Buck McKeon, R-California, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "We have frozen some of the money that we will be sending to Pakistan until they offer more assurances, more help in this area of ... fertilizer and the things that go into making IEDs."
Here's the White House explanation of the change:
"We have been clear that “any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the Nation would prompt the President’s senior advisers to recommend a veto.” After intensive engagement by senior administration officials and the President himself, the Administration has succeeded in prompting the authors of the detainee provisions to make several important changes, including the removal of problematic provisions. While we remain concerned about the uncertainty that this law will create for our counterterrorism professionals, the most recent changes give the President additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented, consistent with our values and the rule of law, which are at the heart of our country’s strength. This legislation authorizes critical funding for military personnel overseas, and its passage sends an important signal that Congress supports our efforts as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan lead while ensuring that our military can meet the challenges of the 21st century.
As a result of these changes, we have concluded that the language does not challenge or constrain the President’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the President’s senior advisors will not recommend a veto. However, if in the process of implementing this law we determine that it will negatively impact our counterterrorism professionals and undercut our commitment to the rule of law, we expect that the authors of these provisions will work quickly and tirelessly to correct these problems."
– Ted Barrett contributed to this report