Obama signs a compromise defence bill that moves closer to shutting Guantanamo

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 11:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 December, 2013, 11:18pm

Barack Obama signed into law the compromise US budget bill recently negotiated by feuding lawmakers and a defence measure that brings the closure of the Guantanamo detention camp a step closer.

After signing seven pieces of legislation while on holiday in Hawaii with his family, Obama praised the National Defence Authorisation Act for allowing accelerated repatriation of terror suspects from the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"I am encouraged that this act provides the executive greater flexibility to transfer Guantanamo detainees abroad, and look forward to working with the Congress to take the additional steps needed to close the facility," Obama said.

The two-year budget agreement, negotiated by Congress earlier this month, lays out top-line spending limits for next year and 2015 and erases US$63 billion in spending cuts that were to take effect on January 1.

I look forward to working with the Congress to take the additional steps needed to close the facility

Critically, it reduces the threat of a government shutdown after January 15, the date by which Democrats and Republicans from both chambers will have to craft a series of spending bills under the new limit.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Republican leader Paul Ryan said the budget bill did not go as far as he'd like, but that it was a firm step in the right direction. "This law is proof that both parties can work together," he said. The Senate approved the annual defence policy bill on December 20, one of its final actions before leaving for the Christmas break.

The act assures US$552.1 billion in military spending, as well as US$80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations, namely the war in Afghanistan.

It also allows for a 1 per cent raise for military personnel and requires reforms in the way the Pentagon handles some sexual assaults in the military.

Under the law, the Pentagon can buy the 29 F-35 jets it has requested.

The fighter, made by Lockheed Martin, is the military's costliest weapons programme, at a projected price of US$391.2 billion for a fleet of 2,443 aircraft.

The wide-ranging bill also included several measures to reform the way the military justice system responds to sexual assaults among members of the military and boosts the Pentagon's ability to help destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

The bill forbids the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the US, a restriction Obama opposes.

"The continued operation of the facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners and emboldening violent extremists," the president said.

Buck McKeon, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee and is opposed to closing Guantanamo, warned that "we can't turn dangerous terrorists loose on blind faith".

The measure also contains a provision meant to force US military services to share the same camouflage patterns in their uniforms. It is intended to end a period in which all the branches tried to come up with camouflage patterns - with expensive and uneven results.

The last vestiges of this year's legislative wrangling behind him, Obama's attention turns now to major challenges and potential bright spots in the year ahead.

Washington Post, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse