WASHINGTON - US lawmakers have unveiled a massive $662 billion defense bill that requires military custody for terrorism suspects linked to al-Qaida, including those captured within the US, cutting Pakistan aid as well as imposing new tough sanctions on Iran.
"I just can't imagine that the president would veto this bill" given the changes made in the House-Senate compromise, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday, December 13.
The joint bill, unveiled by US House and Senate negotiators, includes provisions for military custody of terror suspects who are members of al Qaeda and affiliated groups, according to a summary lawmakers provided to reporters Monday night.
According to the bill, those suspects would be held in military, not civilian, custody, subject to a presidential waiver.
Though the measure exempts US citizens, it leaves it to the US Supreme Court or future presidents to decide whether US nationals who sign on with al-Qaeda or affiliated groups may be held indefinitely without trial.
The bill faces a House vote next Wednesday and a Senate vote later this week.
Favoring civilian detention for such suspects, President Barack Obama had warned he could reject the bill over the required military custody of suspects as well as provisions he charged would short-circuit civilian trials for alleged terrorists.
The negotiators, working to blend rival House of Representatives and Senate versions of the annual defense bill, expressed hopes of having modified the detainee rules enough to avert a White House veto threat.
To reach that end they have met with key aides to Obama, including FBI Director Robert Mueller and top US Treasury Department officials.
"We feel that we were able to satisfy, we hope, most of their concerns," Senator John McCain, the top Republican on Levin's panel, said.
Guantanamo Bay is notorious for rights abuses and torture, with many prisoners over the years have committed suicide and gone on extensive hunger strikes.
After taking office in 2009, Obama pledged to shut down the camp within a year, a pledge that met several hurdles.
Republicans had rejected Obama's efforts to try the suspects on American soil, demanding the trials be held at Guantanamo.
The new proposed defense bill forbids the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to US soil and sharply restricts moving such prisoners to third countries, making it harder to close down the notorious facility.
Under the new measure, the bill proposed freezing roughly $700 million in aid to Pakistan pending assurances that Islamabad has taken steps to thwart militants'.
"We've had some shaky relations lately with Pakistan. We need them, they need us," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, a Republican.
"But one of the things that has bothered me the most in this war in Afghanistan is the loss of life and limb to IEDs."
Tension has been growing between Islamabad and Washington since the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US raid on his compound in Pakistan.
The attack has brought the powerful military under mounting pressures over the US violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
A deadly NATO attack on Pakistan troops last November, that left 26 soldiers killed and scores injured, added to tensions between the once allies.
Responding to the attack, Pakistan decided to shut down all NATO supply lines through its territory to Afghanistan, through which the NATO forces receive roughly 40 percent of their supplies.
It also ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to vacate the drone operations it runs from Shamsi Air Base, in western Pakistan, within 15 days.
The new proposed defense bill also suggested tough new sanctions on Iran which aim to cut off Tehran's central bank from the global financial system.
"It does curtail Iran's ability to buy and sell petroleum through its central bank and prevents foreign financial institutions that deal with the central bank of Iran from continuing their access to the US financial system," said McCain.
"They are going to pay a bigger and bigger price should they continue to move towards nuclear weapons," Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, added.