Human Rights First Calls on Obama to Veto Defense Authorization Bill
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First urges President Obama to veto the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) because it undermines U.S. leadership on human rights. This year’s defense spending bill contains provisions that carry forward burdensome and unnecessary Guantanamo transfer restrictions that hamper President Obama’s ability to close the detention facility. The U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has long been a national liability and stain on American values. “This is a legacy issue for the president,” said Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn. “Congressional restrictions on transferring detainees have for too long obstructed a plan to close Guantanamo that was unanimously approved by the highest officials in the defense, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies responsible for our nation’s security.” The President recently reiterated his intention to close Guantanamo, but acknowledged congressional opposition to his plan. In the president’s first term, an interagency taskforce unanimously approved the transfer of a majority of detainees held at Guantanamo. Eighty-six of those detainees remain at Guantanamo today. Although President Obama retains the authority to transfer those detainees under current law, the transfer restrictions in the 2013 defense bill make it substantially more difficult to effectuate transfers. Recently, 27 retired generals and admirals urged the president to exert renewed leadership to close Guantanamo, including by vetoing legislation that would significantly hamper efforts to close Guantanamo. That call occurred on the same day that Human Rights First released a new blueprint on how to close Guantanamo in President Obama’s second term. The final bill also modified the amendment proposed by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) directing the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to report on the Bahraini government’s promises to implement the reforms recommended by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. Conferees included a version in the conference report along with a statement that “the Naval Support Activity-Bahrain is a valuable strategic asset for the U.S. and a key component of continued mutually beneficial U.S. – Bahrain strategic cooperation.” While the conferees implied support for an administration assessment, the accompanying language does not accurately represent the consequences of Bahrain’s poor human rights record and the threat it poses to the stability of Bahrain. “Stripping this amendment from the bill because of the strategic relationship with Bahrain – as the bill’s report suggests – sends the wrong signal on human rights and on the relationship. This is short term thinking. Having the U.S. government make a thorough assessment of progress on reform is in the interests of Bahrain’s long term stability, something the U.S. needs as much as anyone, and is consistent with U.S. policy to date which encourages implementation of the BICI report and other steps toward reform. The Administration should do this assessment, whether or not is mandated by the NDAA.” On a positive note, the NDAA includes a groundbreaking amendment to end the Department of Defense’s contract with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s primary arms exporter and an enabler of the atrocities in Syria. The amendment – introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) in the Senate and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Kay Granger (R-TX) in the House – effectively ceases U.S. financial support of the Assad regime’s largest weapons supplier and adds additional pressure on Russia for operating with impunity in Syria. “Russia’s support has enabled the crimes of Bashir al- Assad, and cost Syrian lives. It’s time Russia started paying the price for its behavior, and today, Congress agreed,” said Human Rights First’s Winny Chen. “This amendment sends a strong signal to all those who enable atrocities and argue it’s just the normal course of business. It is a significant step for strengthening U.S. action to thwart mass atrocities.