Biden complains $768B defense bill won’t let him close Gitmo

President Biden on Monday signed a $768 billion defense spending bill that includes funds for a 2.7 percent pay raise for the troops — but lamented that it did not provide money to remove terror detainees from Guantánamo Bay.

Top Democrats have long advocated for the closure of the military prison at the US Navy base in Cuba, a drive that has been met with sharp pushback from Republicans.

In a statement, Biden argued that two sections of the bill barring the use of federal funds to transfer detainees to certain foreign nations or the US unless specific conditions are met “unduly impair the ability of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees and where to send them upon release.

“In some circumstances these provisions could make it difficult to comply with the final judgment of a court that has directed the release of a detainee on a writ of habeas corpus,” added the president, who urged Congress to “eliminate these restrictions as soon as possible.”

The president also took issue with provisions in the bill requiring reports on the amount of US military equipment destroyed during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as the threat posed by Iran-backed militias in the Middle East.

Biden complained that such reports “will, in the ordinary course, include highly sensitive classified information, including information that could reveal critical intelligence sources or military operational plans.”

About 96 percent of the massive funding is allocated to Department of Defense programs.
Photo by Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty Images

However, he promised to provide the information “with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters. I believe the Congress shares this understanding.”

The sprawling plan, which includes $25 billion more than the White House had requested for defense spending​, passed the Senate by ​a vote of 89-10 on Dec. 15. A week earlier, it had passed the House by 363-70.

The bulk of the funds — 96 percent — are allocated to Department of Defense programs with another $27.8 billion allocated for Department of Energy national security programs and the remaining $378 million for additional defense-related matters. 

T​he legislation also provides $300 million to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to assist Kiev in acquiring the resources needed to counter Russia’s troop buildup on its eastern border. ​

Joe Biden on a White House call.
Biden said provisions in the bill requiring reports on the amount of US military equipment destroyed during the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan would “include highly sensitive classified information.”
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The legislation also includes language implementing stronger repercussions for sexual assault in the military and criminalizing sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, with all claims being subject to an investigation by an independent investigator. 

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) praised the bill as “the culmination of months of bipartisan work.”

“This year’s NDAA provides our military with a crucial funding increase to ensure that our warfighters have the tools they need to combat the threats our nation faces,” he said in a statement.
 
“Our work is not finished. As we approach the new year, our nation faces unprecedented aggression and threats from near-peer adversaries, namely China and Russia. Combating these threats will continue to be our number one priority as we look ahead to FY23.”

With Post wires