The new law now requires military custody for any suspect who is a member of al-Qaida or “associated forces” and involved in planning or attempting to carry out an attack on the United States or its coalition partners. The president or a designated subordinate may waive the military custody requirement by certifying to Congress that such a move is in the interest of national security.
The administration also pushed Congress to change a provision that would have denied U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism the right to trial and could have subjected them to indefinite detention. Lawmakers eventually dropped the military custody requirement for U.S. citizens or lawful U.S. residents.
“My administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens,” Obama said in the signing statement. “Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.”
Despite the changes, officials cited serious concerns that the law will complicate and could harm the investigation of terrorism cases.
For example, FBI Director Robert Mueller has said the measure would inhibit his bureau’s ability to persuade suspected terrorists to cooperate immediately and provide critical intelligence. He told Congress it wasn’t clear how agents should operate if they arrest someone covered by the military custody requirement but the nearest military facility is hundreds of miles away.