Human Rights First Statement on 2020 NDAA

Sharon Kelly McBride

In response to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees’ release of the final, conference-negotiated defense bill (National Defense Authorization Act for the 2020 Fiscal Year, or “NDAA”), Human Rights First’s Sharon Kelly McBride issued the following statement:

This bill falls short of what we need to bolster our national security through human rights-respecting policies. We are deeply disappointed that Congress dropped critical provisions in the House bill during conference negotiations, including sanctions for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, provisions that would pave the path to close Guantanamo, limits on war authorities, and restrictions on the use of the military for immigration detention. With an unprecedented assault on human rights from this administration, we need a Congress that will rise to the occasion and insist that our national defense is best served by policies that promote human dignity and universal values.

The final bill does incorporate some important provisions, including much-needed transparency for civilian casualties, reporting requirements on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and additional visas and protections for wartime allies and other vulnerable immigrants.”

While the final bill includes some important and meaningful legislation, many of the most critical provisions in the House bill were dropped.

The House version of the defense bill included bi-partisan legislation that passed on a 405-7 vote, which would have mandated that sanctions be imposed on Saudi leaders determined by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to have been responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. While the final defense bill maintains the DNI reporting requirement, which must be delivered to the Congress within 30 days of the bill’s enactment, it drops the House bill’s sanctions provision, gutting the bill’s ability to impose costs for a brazen and premeditated murder.

The final defense bill delivers some welcome news on issues related to use of force policy, as well as civilian casualties and lethal targeting, with multiple provisions that will increase transparency and congressional oversight. At the same time, the bill falls short on the issues of Guantanamo Bay and war authority. For example, against the advice of military leaders and national security experts, the bill retains the unnecessary and unhelpful restrictions on transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States, including for medical treatment or prosecution. The bill also disappointingly lost a chance to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)—the outdated and unused Iraq war authorization—and failed to codify the sense of Congress that the Afghanistan war authorization (2001 AUMF) has been abused to perpetuate endless and expansive wars.

Unfortunately, critical provisions that would limit the military’s role in immigration detention were dropped from the final bill. The bill does include 4,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to protect wartime allies who are at risk of persecution for supporting American efforts overseas. The bill also codifies a “parole in place” policy to allow immigrant members of the military and their family members to apply for a status adjustment without having to leave the country. But overall, the defense bill was a huge missed opportunity to send a clear signal that our national security is best served by protecting refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants more generally.

To speak with Sharon Kelly McBride please contact Meredith MacKenzie at [email protected].


Published on December 11, 2019


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