When the President signed the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in December, he issued a detailed statement making clear that “The fact that I support this bill as a whole does not mean I agree with everything in it.” He noted that he had serious reservations about certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists, and indeed the potential for the bill to interfere with the effective system this Administration has developed was a subject of intense negotiation with Congress -- not to mention one of great concern to many Americans.
In the closing of his statement, the President said that despite having won several crucial changes from previous versions of the bill, concerns remained, and pledged that “My Administration will aggressively seek to mitigate those concerns through the design of implementation procedures and other authorities available to me as Chief Executive and Commander in Chief.” Today the President is making good on that pledge.
One section of particular concern in the bill was Section 1022, which would seek to require military custody for a narrow category of non-citizen detainees who are "captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force." Initially conceived of as a requirement for a group of suspected terrorists to be held in military detention, the Administration worked with Congress to obtain broader authority to interpret and implement the military custody requirement, and to waive its application in individual cases or categories of cases, to better preserve both our national security and our values.
In essence, these procedures seek to preserve the framework for the detention, interrogation, and trial of suspected terrorists that this Administration developed, and has executed with great success for more than three years. Specifically, the procedures are intended to ensure that the executive branch can continue to utilize all elements of national power -- including military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic, and economic tools – to effectively confront the threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its associated forces within the framework of our legal authorities, and will retain the flexibility to determine how best to apply those tools to the unique facts and circumstances we face in confronting this diverse and evolving threat.
Our military and intelligence capabilities have been enormously effective in our campaign against international terrorism. Similarly, our criminal justice system has demonstrated unrivaled effectiveness, unquestioned legitimacy, and the flexibility to preserve and protect the full spectrum of our national security objectives. That system has proven to be invaluable means of disrupting terrorist plots as well as incapacitating and collecting intelligence on terrorists through prosecution and incarceration, and must continue to be an unrestricted counterterrorism tool going forward.