WASHINGTON — The polarized US Senate pressed ahead Monday towards a key mid-week vote on a sweeping military spending bill that has drawn a White House veto threat over new rules on detention of suspected terrorists.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid set up a midday Wednesday procedural vote to advance the annual Defense Authorization legislation, which is generally a shoo-in for passage because it affects US troops in harm’s way.
But the $662 billion measure has hit a snag over provisions requiring that al-Qaeda fighters captured on US soil be held by military, not civilian authorities — rules that President Barack Obama opposes.
“We must get this bill passed. It is critically important to our men and women in uniform,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, said on the Senate floor Monday.
Levin and the top Republican on his committee, Senator John McCain, defended the detainee provisions in a Washington Post column as “a careful, bipartisan effort” to give the US government “the clear authority, tools and flexibility of action it needs to defend us against the threat posed by al-Qaeda.”
The measure affirms Obama’s right to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely, and calls for al-Qaeda fighters who plot or carry out attacks on US targets to be held in military custody.
But it allows the Obama administration to declare whether a detainee fits that description, and permits the government to hold suspected al-Qaeda fighters in civilian custody if it formally declares that to be in the US national security interest.