The US Congress has approved a controversial defence bill that would deny terror suspects, including US citizens, the right to trial, permit authorities to detain them indefinitely and require the US military to handle terror-suspected foreign nationals.
The Senate approved the $662bn defence bill in an 86-13 vote on Thursday a day after the bill was passed by the House of Representatives after the White House withdrew a threat to block the proposed legislation over concerns it would undermine the president’s authority over counterterrorism activities.
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The bill also endorsed tougher sanctions against Iran’s central bank and freezing $700 million in aid to Pakistan.
New counterterrorism procedures would require the US military to take custody of terror suspects accused of involvement in plotting or committing attacks against the United States.
But in changes introduced under pressure from the White House, the bill was amended to say that the military cannot interfere with FBI and other civilian investigations and interrogations.
The revisions also allow the president to sign a waiver moving a terror suspect from military to civilian prison.
The legislation was the latest battle in a long struggle between Obama, and some legislators over whether terror suspects should be prosecuted as “enemy combatants” before military commissions and held at Guantanamo Bay, or treated as criminal suspects in the US court and prison system.
Republicans and some Democrats have urged that military custody and military courts should be used as a rule. The
administration has sought to keep its flexibility in interrogating and detaining terrorism suspects, arguing that many had been successfully prosecuted in federal courts.
‘Lack of clarity’
But some officials had some objections to the clause. FBI Director Robert Mueller criticised the provision for its lack of clarity on how the changes would be implemented at the time of arrest.
The bill has also attracted criticism from civil rights campaigners.
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said the bill was a “big deal”.
“It would authorise the president to order the military to capture civilians and put them in indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no limitation based on either geography or citizenship,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The military would have the authority to imprison persons far from any battlefield, including American citizens and including people picked up in the US.”