White House, Congress on Collision Course over Detainees

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President Obama and Congress are on a collision course as the White House rejects congressional efforts to tinker with how the administration detains and prosecutes potential terrorists. The fight is being played out through the House and Senate versions of defense spending and authorization bills.

The White House on Thursday announced it would veto the House defense spending bill that is headed to the House floor, in part, because that legislation bars the administration from moving any detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo to the United States. The White House calls that a “dangerous and extraordinary challenge to to critical executive branch authority to determine when and where to prosecute detainees.”

Now the Senate Armed Services Committee has joined the act. In a 25-1 vote, that panel approved an amendment to the Pentagon’s authorization bill that requires that any core members of Al-Qaeda captured anywhere — even in, say, Newark — are transferred to the custody of the Defense Department.

Hill staff emphasize that the bill does not rule out the military transferring those kinds of detainees back to the Justice Department for prosecution. Justice Department sources have not seen that bill’s language yet, but they are already bristling at Congress continuing to muck about with how the executive branch detains and prosecutes terrorists. No word yet on whether the White House might threaten to veto that bill also.

“Politics has no place — no place — in the impartial and effective administration of justice,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a June 16 speech before the American Constitution Society. “Decisions about how, where, and when to prosecute must be made by prosecutors, not politicians.”