Deal Reached on Defense Bill
Early last week, a small bicameral and bipartisan working group announced a deal on a new National Defense Authorization Act. The latest bill replaces both the version of the NDAA passed by House passed earlier this year and the NDAA that the Senate was considering before Thanksgiving.
The working group included Representative Buck McKeon (R-CA-25), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Representative Adam Smith (D-OR-9), Ranking Member of HASC, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). I recently wrote about the importance of the NDAA before an expected Senate vote two weeks ago, with particular emphasis on the provisions on the detention center at Guantanamo Bay and military sexual assault.
The new proposal – which passed the House on December 12 by 350 to 69 – affirms a commitment to decreasing the detainee population at Guantanamo, ending sexual assault in the military and ensuring religious liberty for all service members.
The provisions on Guantanamo have been amended since they were last on the Senate floor, but the goals of the provisions are intact (i.e. streamlining the transfer of detainees, lifting the ban on transfer to Yemen). These provisions will hopefully facilitate the transfer of the 80 men at the detention center who have been cleared to leave – about half the current number of prisoners. For more information about the history of Guantanamo, check out Human Rights First’s fact sheet.
The media placed particular attention during this year’s NDAA debate on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) attempt to include the Military Justice Improvement Act in the final package. Ultimately, MJIA was not included in the compromise and Senator Gillibrand has decided to introduce the bill as stand-alone legislation. However, there are important provisions aimed to curb military sexual assault in the NDAA, many which reflect the goals of both Senator Gillibrand’s and Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) bill (the Victim Protection Act).One of the most groundbreaking reforms would no longer allow commanding officers to dismiss a decision made in court-martial and would also prohibit them from reducing guilty sentences to a lesser offence.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not highlight new language on religious freedom in the military, which reflect a greater openness and interest in striking a better balance between religious liberty and necessary uniformity in our Armed Forces.
This is a complicated, content-rich bill that reflects much debate and compromise between the chambers and the parties. The NDAA for FY 2014 signals progressive momentum on Guantanamo, military sexual assault and religious liberty. While this legislation contains many other defense-related items in addition to the three lifted up here, passing this bill would be a significant step forward.