U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday signed a bipartisan budget deal easing spending cuts and a defence authorisation bill that takes a step towards ultimate closure of Guantanamo.
Mr. Obama put his signature on the legislation and praised the National Defence Authorization Act that allows accelerated repatriation of detainees from the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, in addition to a crackdown on sexual assault in military.
He signed the bills while vacationing in Hawaii, where the President has been keeping since Saturday as he regroups for the midterm election year ahead.
Mr. Obama said since taking office, he has repeatedly called upon the Congress to work with his Administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.
“I am encouraged that this act provides the executive greater flexibility to transfer Guantanamo detainees abroad, and look forward to working with the Congress to take the additional steps needed to close the facility,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.
“The continued operation of the facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists,” he said.
The sweeping defence bill among others, authorises $527 billion in base defence spending and $80 billion for the war in Afghanistan, in addition to a crackdown on sexual assault in military and eases restrictions on transferring detainees from the federal prison at Guantanamo Bay.
In possibly his last official act of the year, the bipartisan bill crafted by Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray authorises more than $1 trillion in spending for fiscal 2014 and 2015, and creates a detente between the parties by avoiding both entitlement cuts and tax increases.
It replaces $63 billion in sequester cuts over two years, in part by cutting benefits for new federal workers and military retirees and by raising fees on airlines tickets.
“This law is proof that both parties can work together,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement.
Noting that the detention facility at Guantanamo continues to impose significant costs on the American people, Mr. Obama said he is encouraged that this Act provides the Executive greater flexibility to transfer Guantanamo detainees abroad, and look forward to working with the Congress to take the additional steps needed to close the facility.
Congressman Howard P “Buck” McKeon, Chairman of House Armed Services Committee, welcomed the signing of the 52nd National Defence Authorization Act into law.
“The law makes important reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, taking steps to heal the scar of sexual assault within the ranks.
“Though we still have much work to do, the law also takes steps to restore readiness to our forces worn down by a decade at war and repeated budget cuts,” he said.