Obama Cedes Terror Cases to Civilian Law Enforcement

Obama Cedes Terror Cases to Civilian Law Enforcement

From the Wall Street Journal:
President Barack Obama issued an order Tuesday giving civilian investigators broad power to handle the cases of U.S. terrorism suspects despite a law passed late last year favoring military custody.

The decision is likely to raise hackles among lawmakers who included the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, and it could provide an election-year issue for Republicans.

Mr. Obama signed the bill under protest Dec. 31 and attached a statement saying he intended to disregard portions interfering with his presidential powers.

The law requires military detention for non-U.S. citizens accused of planning or carrying out an attack for al Qaeda and associated groups. At the White House’s insistence, it included discretion for the president to waive the requirement if necessary to avoid disrupting terrorism probes led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Tuesday’s order takes advantage of that discretion to the fullest, preserving for the FBI and other civilian authorities the leading role in handling terrorism arrests in the U.S. Military detention would be an option in limited cases, largely at the discretion of the attorney general and federal investigators.


Mr. Obama’s interpretation of the waiver authority is likely to clash with the wishes of the bipartisan group of lawmakers who pushed the military-custody provision.

Republican proponents of the military-detention provision said they would hold a Senate hearing, because they believe the president’s order might violate the spirit of the law. Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire issued a statement saying they were “concerned that some of these regulations may contradict the intent of the detainee provisions” in the defense bill.

Mr. Obama has also come under fire from civil libertarians who said the law could pave the way for the indefinite military detention without trial of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Such criticism came both from right-leaning tea-party supporters and groups on the left.

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the president should have vetoed the law, as signing it “turns the practice of indefinite military detention into a permanent part of American law.”

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