President Obama signed the 1038 page National Defense Authorization Act on December 26, authorizing $632.8 billion in military spending for FY2014. As usual, the bill passed both chambers with bi-partisan support. See the roll call here: Senate and House. The NDAA, as usual, touched on a number of issues of importance to civil libertarians.
Guantanamo: The bill includes a provision to ease restrictions on transferring innocent detainees from Guantanamo to other countries (but extends the prohibition on transfers to the U.S.). DDF joined with dozens of other civil liberties and human rights groups thanking Congress for that provision. It is too little too late, but it’s a small step in the right direction.
Whistleblowers: The 2014 NDAA strengthens protections for military whistleblowers and victims of sexual assault against unfair retaliation. DDF joined with military whistleblowers and concerned groups to write a letter in support of the provisions, which include a extending the time limit to report misconduct from a short 60-days to one year, which is more in line with other federal workers and contractors and gives potential whistleblowers sufficient time to find counsel. It also requires the Service Secretary take action within 30 days of receiving a complaint, and that a higher level service Inspector General (IG) investigates reprisal charges, not the level where the whistleblower is stationed. It also requires the military support whistleblowers through the difficult investigatory process, rather than having them navigate on their own, as they do now. Importantly, whistleblowers and victims of retaliation for reporting sexual assault are now guaranteed an administrative due process hearing. Read the letter here.
Drones: One provision in the NDAA will require the Secretary of Defense to submit a report on the legal and policy considerations, as well as the approval process for deciding who will be added to kill (or capture) lists outside of Afghanistan (so it should include policies for drone strikes in Yeman, Somalia and Pakistan). The report must be submitted to the Armed Services Committees of the House and Senate before March 26, 3014. It goes without saying that these policies should be made public, not just sent to the Armed Services Committees.
Conflict Records Research Center: Several blogs have raised concerns about Section 1071 (a) of the NDAA that appears to create a new ‘Conflict Records Research Center’ (CRRC) that will compile a “digital research database including translations and to facilitate research and analysis of records captured from countries, organizations, and individuals, now or once hostile to the United States.” The language raises legitimate concerns, but the CCRC already exists and is a repository of material captured during the invasion of Iraq and is specifically tasked with making those materials available to scholars. The law does not create a new entity or authorize new data collection. As of this writing, we are not raising alarms about this provision). I
ndefinite Detention: The indefinite detention provisions passed in the 2012 NDAA were not repealed or altered by the 2014 NDAA.