US Congress sends sweeping defense bill to Obama

Updated 22 December 2012
0

US Congress sends sweeping defense bill to Obama

WASHINGTON: A major $633-billion defense spending bill was awaiting President Barack Obama’s signature Saturday after the US Senate gave it its stamp of approval, tightening penalties on Iran, funding the war in Afghanistan and boosting security at US missions worldwide.
The legislation passed the Senate 81-14 Friday, despite furious opposition from Republican Senator Rand Paul, who criticized removal of an amendment that would have provided Americans with protection against indefinite military detention.
Despite a raging partisan row in Washington over how to resolve a year-end fiscal crisis, the compromise bill sailed through the House of Representatives on Thursday and now goes to President Barack Obama’s desk.
In addition to covering standard national security expenses like shipbuilding, it provides a 1.7-percent pay raise for men and women in uniform, authorizes the Pentagon to pay for abortions in cases of rape and incest and lifts a ban on same-sex marriage ceremonies on military bases.
According to Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, the measure designates certain unnamed individuals in Iran’s energy, port, shipping, and ship-building sectors as entities of proliferation concern and imposes sanctions against them.
It also names the Iranian broadcasting company and its president human rights abusers for their broadcasting of forced confessions and show trials, blocks their assets in the United States and bans their travel to the country.
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 was hammered out by House and Senate conferees this month after each chamber voted to approve separate versions of the bill.
They compromised on overall spending figures, settling on $527.4 billion for the base Pentagon budget; $88.5 billion for overseas contingency operations including the war in Afghanistan; and $17.8 billion for national security programs in the Energy Department and Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.
The White House last month said Obama could veto the act out of concern for the restrictions on his handling of Guantanamo detainees, but Senator Levin said this week he did not expect a veto.
The bill extended for one year the restriction on use of US funds to transfer Guantanamo inmates to other countries, a limitation critics say marks a setback for Obama’s efforts to close the detention center.
Paul said it was a “travesty of justice” that an amendment designed to limit the president’s power to indefinitely detain US citizens as terror suspects was stripped from the final bill.
“It’s a shame to scrap the very rights that make us exceptional as a people,” Paul said, referring to the rights to a trial for anyone held in the United States.
“Am I the only one uncomfortable applying the law of war to American citizens accused of crimes in the United States?” he asked.
Levin assured that nothing in existing law denied the right to a fair trial, adding that “the language in this conference report reflects my view that Congress did not restrict anyone’s constitutional rights.”
Rights groups had expressed concern with the amendment because it referred specifically to US nationals and legal residents, leaving open the possibility that under the rule the military might be used to detain illegal immigrants.
In the wake of this year’s deadly attack on the US mission in Libya that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans, the bill authorized an increase of 1,000 Marines to protect US diplomatic missions.
“The tragic events in Benghazi on September 11th demonstrate that the security environment facing our diplomatic corps is as dangerous as ever,” said Senator John McCain.
“This provision will provide for the end-strength and resources necessary to support an increase in Marine Corps security at locations identified by the secretary of state to be at risk of terrorist attack.”
The bill also authorizes $9.8 billion for missile defense, including funds for a Pentagon feasibility study on three possible missile defense sites on the US East Coast.


Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

Updated 22 April 2018
0

Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

  • The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban.
  • The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims.

WASHINGTON: The first big showdown at the US Supreme Court over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies is set for Wednesday when the justices hear a challenge to the lawfulness of his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.
The case represents a test of the limits of presidential power. Trump’s policy, announced in September, blocks entry into the US of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Chad previously was on the list but Trump lifted those restrictions on April 10.
The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban or any other major Trump immigration policy, including his move to rescind protections for young immigrants sometimes called Dreamers brought into the US illegally as children. It has previously acted on Trump requests to undo lower court orders blocking those two policies, siding with him on the travel ban and opposing him on the Dreamers. Trump’s immigration policies — also including actions taken against states and cities that protect illegal immigrants, intensified deportation efforts and limits on legal immigration — have been among his most contentious. 
The conservative-majority Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on Wednesday on the third version of a travel ban policy Trump first sought to implement a week after taking office in January 2017, and issue a ruling by the end of June. 
The lead challenger is the state of Hawaii, which argues the ban violates federal immigration law and the US Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring one religion over another.
“Right now, the travel ban is keeping families apart. It is degrading our values by subjecting a specific set of people to be denigrated and marginalized,” Hawaii Lt. Governor Doug Chin said in an interview.
The Supreme Court on Dec. 4 signaled it may lean toward backing Trump when it granted the administration’s request to let the ban go into full effect while legal challenges played out.
In another immigration-related case, the justices on April 17 invalidated a provision in a US law requiring deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes of violence. Trump’s administration and the prior Obama administration had defended the provision.
'Politically correct'
Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the US from terrorism by militants. Just before the latest ban was announced, Trump wrote on Twitter that the restrictions “should be far larger, tougher and more specific — but stupidly that would not be politically correct!“
The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims, pressing that point in lower courts with some success by citing statements he made as a candidate and as president. As a candidate, Trump promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The Justice Department argues Trump’s statements as a candidate carry no weight because he was not yet president. The policy’s challengers also point to views he has expressed as president, including his retweets in November of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British political figure.
In a court filing last week, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, representing Trump in court, said those retweets “do not address the meaning” of the travel ban policy.
Francisco cited Trump statements complimentary toward Muslims and Islam, including in a May 2017 speech in Saudi Arabia.
In defending the ban, the administration has pointed to a waiver provision allowing people from targeted countries to seek entry if they meet certain criteria. The State Department said that as of last month 375 waivers to the travel ban had been granted since the policy went into effect on Dec 8.