US Congress sends sweeping defense bill to Obama

Updated 22 December 2012
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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.


Rights court dismisses Breivik’s complaint about jail conditions

Breivik is serving a 21-year sentence for the July 2011 massacre of 77 people. (Lise Aaserud via Reuters)
Updated 4 min 43 sec ago
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Rights court dismisses Breivik’s complaint about jail conditions

  • Norwegian officials have repeatedly rejected allegations that Breivik is isolated, arguing that he is treated as a “VIP prisoner” and has regular contact with prison staff, his lawyer and visitors
  • Breivik has the use of three cells, each measuring more than 10 square meters and equipped with a television, computer, DVD player and gym gear

STRASBOURG: The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday dismissed a complaint by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik over his prison conditions, ending a long-running saga that kept him in the public eye, tormenting his victims.
Breivik is serving a 21-year sentence for the July 2011 massacre of 77 people, most of them teenagers gunned down while attending a Labour Party youth camp on the small island of Utoeya.
The far-right, anti-Islam extremist took his case to the ECHR after Norway’s Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal last year against a ruling that his near-isolation in a three-room cell respected his human rights.
His lawyer argued that the prison conditions breached articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the former prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment, the latter guarantees a right to privacy and family life.
“His state (of mind) is deteriorating,” his lawyer Oystein Storrvik told AFP. “He is no longer able to study for example.”
But the court based in Strasbourg said that “its examination of the case did not reveal any violations of the Convention, and rejected the application as inadmissible for being manifestly ill-founded.”
Norwegian officials have repeatedly rejected allegations that Breivik is isolated, arguing that he is treated as a “VIP prisoner” and has regular contact with prison staff, his lawyer and visitors.
He has the use of three cells, each measuring more than 10 square meters and equipped with a television, computer, DVD player and gym gear. He has no Internet connection, however.
Survivors of the Utoeya massacre expressed satisfaction at the ruling.
“It’s a relief. We’re hoping not to hear his name again for many years to come,” Lisbeth Kristine Royneland, the head of a victims’ support group whose 18-year-old daughter was killed by Breivik, told AFP.
Writing on Twitter, a survivor of the massacre, Tore Remi Christensen, wrote: “The Breivik case is rejected in Strasbourg. Delighted. May he and all those who share his shitty message rot in hell.”
Breivik’s killing spree began on July 22, 2011, when he set off a bomb outside a government building in Oslo, killing eight people.
Disguised as a police officer and armed with a semi-automatic rifle and pistol, he then went to Utoya where the Labour Party was holding a youth camp, killing 69.
During his trial the extremist, who has changed his name to Fjotolf Hansen, repeatedly addressed the courts with Nazi salutes and complained about the cold coffee and frozen meals served in prison, among other things.
His sentence can be extended indefinitely if judges determine he remains a threat to society.