Obama opposes spending bill's detainee restriction

December 23, 2011 - 5:56 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama told Congress restrictions on his ability to transfer detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States might violate the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.

The provision is contained in a massive spending bill that Obama signed Friday. The president, in a statement accompanying his signature, said he will interpret the provisions in a way that "avoids constitutional conflicts."

"Signing statements" allow presidents to raise constitutional objections to circumvent Congress' intent. During his campaign for the White House, Obama criticized President George W. Bush's use of signing statements and promised to make his application the tool more transparent.

The spending bill restrictions cited by Obama are similar to ones contained in a defense bill that Congress passed this month. Those provisions survived negotiations between lawmakers and the administration that allowed Obama to investigate and try suspected terrorists in civilian courts.

Obama has indicated his intent to sign that bill, but Friday's statement signaled that he would raise similar objections.

"My administration has repeatedly communicated my objections to these provisions, including my view that they could, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles," Obama said. He said he would continue to work toward their repeal.

Congress and the White House have been at odds over detention policy ever since Obama was sworn in.

Many lawmakers have resisted the administration's efforts to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo and have opposed trying terror suspects in federal courts in the United States rather than by military commission.

The Senate approved a $1 trillion-plus 2012 spending bill last Saturday in a flurry of year-end activity that was overshadowed by an ensuing confrontation over extending a payroll tax cut. The legislation, which sets the day-to-day budgets of 10 Cabinet agencies, locks in cuts that conservative Republicans won from the White House and Democrats this year.

Obama also took issue with the spending bill's ban on funding United Nations peacekeeping missions if they place U.S. military forces under the command of a "foreign national" — unless the president notifies Congress that such a deployment is in the national interest.

Obama said those provisions also could interfere with his constitutional authorities.

"In approving this bill, I reiterate the understanding, which I have communicated to the Congress, that I will apply these provisions in a manner consistent with my constitutional authority as commander in chief."