WASHINGTON — President Obama issued a lengthy statement along with his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, noting that several provisions, including provisions limiting the transfer of detainees in Parwan, Afghanistan and from Guantanamo, “raise constitutional concerns.”
As to both, Obama stated that “my Administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict.” The statement also asserts that the implementation of other provisions, which Obama stated could interfere with his ability to “conduct diplomacy” and “manage and direct executive branch officials,” will be consistent with and not interfere with his authority.
The use of signing statements, as they are called, was criticized as having the potential to “undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers,” as a panel of the American Bar Association concluded under President George W. Bush, but Obama has continued the practice.
The first specific section Obama mentioned in the signing statement was the military “conscience” provision that bars punishing soldiers and military chaplains for their beliefs. The provision is similar to one advanced by backers of the former ban on open gay and lesbian service, and was added by the House and eventually approved, in compromise language, by Congress.
Of that provision, which purports to require the military to accommodate the beliefs of servicemembers and chaplains regarding their “moral principles or religious beliefs” and prohibit the use of such beliefs as the basis for any “adverse personnel action,” Obama stated:
Section 533 is an unnecessary and ill-advised provision, as the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members. The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct. My Administration remains fully committed to continuing the successful implementation of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and to protecting the rights of gay and lesbian service members; Section 533 will not alter that.
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