House and Senate Agree on $662 Billion Defense Bill

House and Senate negotiators late Monday agreed to a sweeping $662 billion defense bill that requires military custody for terrorism suspects linked to al-Qaida, including those captured within the U.S., and indefinite detention without trial for some suspects.

U.S. Senate and House plan to vote this week on a $662 billion defense bill that seeks to control rising costs of the Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) F-35 jet, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program. Photo: Gregwest98

The bill would authorize $662 billion for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Reflecting a period of austerity and a winding down of decade-old conflicts, the bill is $27 billion less than Obama requested and $43 billion less than Congress gave the Pentagon for the year before.

President Barack Obama and his national security team had appealed to lawmakers for last-minute changes to the bill to give the executive branch greater flexibility on whether to treat suspected terrorists as prisoners of war or criminals.

Facing a White House veto threat, leaders of the Armed Services Committees said they had added language on national security waivers and other slight revisions that they hoped would ensure administration support.

The negotiators agreed to a provision that directs the Pentagon, in an upcoming sixth F-35 production contract, to place greater risk on Lockheed Martin to absorb overruns.

The Senate and House negotiators also agreed to cut funding for one F-35 jet for the Air Force, dropping its purchase to 18 for 2012. The negotiators approved funding for seven carrier- based F-35s requested by the Navy and six short take-off-and- vertical landing versions requested by the Marine Corps.

“We took significant steps to address the administration’s concerns,” Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House panel, told reporters at a news conference.

The bill would require that the military take custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates and who is involved in plotting or committing attacks on the United States, with an exemption for U.S. citizens.

Responding to appeals from Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller, the lawmakers added a provision that says nothing in the bill will affect “existing criminal enforcement and national security authorities of the FBI or any other domestic law enforcement agency” with regard to a captured suspect, “regardless of whether such … person is held in military custody.”

The 2012 defense authorization bill sets military policy and spending targets at about $26.6 billion below the Pentagon’s request for the fiscal year that started Oct.1.

The bill includes $115.5 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and about $16.9 billion for Department of Energy defense programs.

“After a decade of war against al-Qaida and its affiliates under the authorization for the use of force of Sept. 18, 2001, it is long past time provide a statutory basis relating to military detention under that authorization,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services panel, said in a statement.

The legislation would deny suspected terrorists, even U.S. citizens seized within the nation’s borders, the right to trial and subject them to indefinite detention. The lawmakers made no changes to that language.

“The so-called `changes’ to the detainee provisions that came out to conference are cosmetic at best,” said Raha Wala of Human Rights First. “They do little to fix the underlying problems with the bill. The president has no choice now but to veto, both for the sake of our national security and the rule of law.”

“I just can’t imagine that the president would veto this bill,” Levin said.

The president would have the power to determine what suspects have an al-Qaeda connection and therefore would go into military detention, according to a committee news release.

The bill would go after foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank by barring them from opening or maintaining correspondent operations in the United States. It would apply to foreign central banks only for transactions that involve the sale or purchase of petroleum or petroleum products.

The petroleum penalties would only apply if the president, in six months, determines there is a sufficient alternative supply and if the country with jurisdiction over the financial institution has not significantly reduced its purchases of Iranian oil. It also allows the president to waive the penalties based on national security. [via Huffington Post and Bloomberg]

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