Levin Statement on Conference Report on National Defense Authorization Act

Monday, December 12, 2011

“For five decades, Congress has without fail passed an annual defense authorization act in the interests of protecting our nation and doing right by our troops and their families. The conference report we have just adopted gives us the opportunity to continue that unbroken line, and I am confident it will pass both houses with strong bipartisan support.

“I want to thank my partner in the Senate, Senator McCain, as well as Chairman Buck McKeon and Ranking Member Adam Smith, for their extraordinary hard work and cooperation. Assisted by staffers who have worked way beyond the call of duty, we have demonstrated that even at a time of political polarization, and even when dealing with complex and sometimes controversial issues, members of Congress can come together to legislate and do our duty to the people we serve.

“Our primary responsibility, this and every year, is to pass a bill that provides for the national defense, ensures that our troops and their families are cared for, and delivers maximum value for taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

“This agreement authorizes $662 billion for national defense discretionary programs, which is $26.6 billion less than the budget request. That includes $23 billion less than the base budget request, $2.4 billion less than the overseas contingency operations request, and $1.1 billion less than the Department of Energy’s request for national security programs. It includes a 1.6 percent pay raise for all members of the uniformed services and authorizes more than 30 types of bonuses and special pays to encourage enlistment and re-enlistment.

“The detainee provisions have generated a great deal of discussion. There were ample assurances in the Senate bill that there would be no interference with civilian interrogations and law enforcement. Those provisions:

  • Left it to the president to determine who is connected to al Qaeda and therefore subject to presumed military detention;
  • Provided that those procedures not interfere with ongoing intelligence, surveillance or interrogations by civilian law enforcement;
  • Left it to the executive branch to determine whether a military detainee is tried by a civilian or military court;
  • Gave the executive branch broad waiver authority.

“However, to address the perception of some that the Senate bill somehow constrained civilian law enforcement, the conference report provides a number of additional assurances that there will be no interference with civilian interrogations or other law enforcement activities:

  • We have added language that says:

'Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the existing criminal enforcement and national security authorities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other domestic law enforcement agency with regard to a covered person, regardless of whether such covered person is held in military custody.'

  • We have changed the title of the section in question from ‘Requirement for Military Custody’ to ‘Military Custody for Foreign al Qaeda Terrorists.’
  • We have changed the waiver provision so that waiver authority now rests with the president, rather than the secretary of defense.
  • And we have changed language that protects interrogations to make clear that it is civilian interrogation generally that is protected from interruption, and not just a single interrogation session.

“Conferees adopted Senate language bill language making clear that we are not modifying existing law on the issue of who is an enemy combatant. Existing law on transfer of Guantanamo detainees to foreign countries is maintained, but with added flexibility for the executive branch in the form of a waiver. And existing law on transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States is maintained for another year.

“After a decade of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates under the Authorization for the Use of Force of Sept. 18, 2001, it is long past time to provide a statutory basis relating to military detention under that authorization.
“There are some other major accomplishments of the bill. The conferees have adopted the Senate’s strong provisions applying sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank virtually intact. Provisions from the Senate bill included in the conference report give us confidence that sanctions will not result in a windfall for Iran through increases in the price of oil. At the same time, these provisions will add major pressure on Iran to end its quest for nuclear weapons.

“The conference report also includes the strong Senate provisions relating to counterfeit electronic parts in the defense supply chain. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s investigation revealed a flood of counterfeit parts, overwhelmingly traceable to China. That flood endangers our national security, threatens the safety of our troops, wastes taxpayers money and costs American jobs. This legislation will help stem that tide.

“The conferees have also adopted Senate language reauthorizing the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs. These programs are important for the health of small business and for our ability to grow the economy through innovation. And they are important for our national security. The Department of Defense is the largest user of these programs, and innovations that they produce have made significant contributions to our defense.

“Finally, the conference report contains no earmarks.”