President Obama attached a signing statement to the 2015 NDAA that shredded Congress and accused the legislative branch of violating the constitutional separation of powers by passing provisions that block him from closing GITMO.
Here is the full text of the president’s signing statement,
Today I have signed into law H.R. 3979, the “Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’ McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015.” I have signed this annual defense authorization legislation because it will provide vital benefits for military personnel and their families, as well as critical contingency authorities needed to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to respond to emerging needs in the face of evolving terrorist threats and emergent crises worldwide.
Earlier this month, the Department of Defense transferred the last remaining third-country nationals held in U.S. custody in Afghanistan,
ending U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan. Yet halfway around the world, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open for the 13th consecutive year, costing the American people hundreds of millions of dollars each year and undermining America’s standing in the world. As I have said many times, the continued operation of this detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists. Closing the detention facility is a national imperative.
I have repeatedly called upon the Congress to work with my Administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo once and for all. Individuals from across the political spectrum have recognized that the facility should be closed. But instead of removing unwarranted and burdensome restrictions that curtail the executive branch’s options for managing the detainee population, this bill continues them. 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 1033 likewise renews the bar against using appropriated funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States for any purpose. The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, contains similar provisions as well as those relating to existing restrictions on the transfer of detainees abroad.
I have consistently opposed these restrictions and will continue to work with the Congress to remove them. More than 80 percent of detainees at one time held at the detention facility have now been transferred. The executive branch must have the flexibility, with regard to those detainees who remain, 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. Under certain circumstances, the provisions concerning detainee transfers in both bills would violate constitutional separation of powers principles. In the event that the restrictions on the transfer of detainees operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict.
The restrictions on detainee transfers are another way for Congress to block the president from closing GITMO. The fight isn’t just about the executive power to move detainees. In the bigger picture, this is the latest move in the struggle to close the facility.
The major problem is that the majority of Senate Democrats continue to cave the 9/11 style politics of fear by voting to restrict the president from closing the facility. Only four members of the Democratic caucus voted against the 2015 NDAA. Democrats Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Independent Bernie Sanders voted against the bill. Progressive darling Elizabeth Warren voted for the bill, so did Al Franken.
President Obama has been trying to close GITMO since he first took office. In January of 2009, one of Obama’s first acts in office was to sign an executive order to close GITMO within one year. At the time the president said, “This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our founding fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.”
As soon as Obama issued his executive order, Democrats and Republicans starting working together to make sure that the national stain known as GITMO stays open. Every time Obama made a move towards closing GITMO a coalition of Democrats, and Republicans blocked him.
Only six Senate Democrats voted to fund closing GITMO in 2011.
The president was correct. Members of Congress who voted for the restrictions on detainee transfer are violating the separation of powers. Some on the left continue to blame President Obama for not closing GITMO, but their blame is misplaced. (No, vetoing the bill is not an option. Congress would easily override an Obama veto of the NDAA.) Congress has refused to fund the closure, and blocked the transfer of detainees. Obama lived up to his end of the bargain. If progressives want to place blame somewhere, they should begin with some of the same people that they are trying to draft to run for president in 2016.