Defense Bill Also Contains Several Other Troubling Provisions
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WASHINGTON – The House today passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains a dangerous provision that authorizes a worldwide war against terrorism suspects and against nations suspected of supporting them. The bill includes several additional troubling provisions, including one that would needlessly delay the implementation of the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and another blocking all federal criminal trials of suspected terrorists who are not U.S. citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union strongly opposes the authorization for worldwide war and many other provisions in the bill.
Earlier this week, President Obama threatened to veto the legislation, citing concerns with the worldwide war provision and provisions limiting the executive branch’s authority to transfer terrorism suspects to the United States for prosecution or for release to other countries. An amendment to strike the worldwide war provision failed despite a strong bipartisan vote.
“The tide has begun to turn against the worldwide war proposal,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Two weeks ago, very few people even knew this dangerous worldwide war provision was being considered. Yet today, a bipartisan group of 187 members voted to try to block its passage and the president has issued a veto threat against it. The Senate should now build on today’s momentum and kill off this dangerous unlimited war proposal. A new authorization of worldwide war will mean unrestricted powers to use the military at home and abroad at a time when the majority of Americans want limits on U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts. Not only will this authority make America less safe, it is unnecessary and will undermine our values and change us as a nation.”
The worldwide war provision was added to the bill by the committee's chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), and goes much further than the current authorization of war. The new authorization would last as long as there are terrorism suspects anywhere in the world and would allow a president to use military force in any country around the world where there are terrorism suspects, even when there is no connection to the 9/11 attacks or any other specific harm or threat to the United States.
The NDAA’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provisions would delay repeal implementation by expanding the repeal law’s certification requirements to include each service chief for each branch of the armed forces and deny lesbian and gay service members equal access to federal facilities on the basis of their sexual orientation.
“Trying to throw a roadblock up to derail ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal at this point is a desperate attempt to postpone the inevitable,” said Murphy. “For nearly 20 years, lesbian, gay and bisexual service members have been forced to hide who they are and who they love in order to serve their country. It was with the will of the president, the uniformed and civilian leadership of the military and Congress itself that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed and its implementation will continue to move forward successfully despite the attempts by some House members to disrupt it.”
An important reproductive rights amendment, however, was not even considered for debate. The amendment, offered by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and five other co-sponsors, would have ended the current unconscionable ban on insurance coverage of abortion care for servicewomen and dependents in cases of rape and incest.
“It is indefensible that the House would decide against voting on an amendment to benefit our women in uniform who become pregnant as a result of rape. Women who join the military face shocking levels of sexual assault and this current ban on abortion coverage is both unfair and disgraceful,” said Murphy.
An amendment to create a new, costly school voucher program was defeated. The ACLU opposes school vouchers because they allow taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools and undermine the separation of church and state. The defeated amendment would have forced students who used the vouchers to forfeit many of the protections guaranteed to them in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.