The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 was signed into United States law on December 31, 2011, by President Barack Obama.
The Act authorizes $662 billion in funding, among other things "for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad." In a signing statement, President Obama described the Act as addressing national security programs, Department of Defense health care costs, counter-terrorism within the U.S. and abroad, and military modernization. The Act also imposes new economic sanctions against Iran (section 1045), commissions appraisals of the military capabilities of countries such as Iran, China, and Russia, and refocuses the strategic goals of NATO towards "energy security."
The most controversial provisions to receive wide attention are contained in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled "Counter-Terrorism." In particular, sub-sections 1021 and 1022, which deal with detention of persons the government suspects of involvement in terrorism, have generated controversy as to their legal meaning and their potential implications for abuse of Presidential authority. Although the White House and Senate sponsors maintain that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) already grants presidential authority for indefinite detention, the Act states that Congress "affirms" this authority and makes specific provisions as to the exercise of that authority. The detention provisions of the Act have received critical attention by, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and some media sources which are concerned about the scope of the President's authority, including contentions that those whom they claim may be held indefinitely could include U.S. citizens arrested on American soil, including arrests by members of the Armed Forces.
The bill passed the House 283 to 136.
A federal court issued an order blocking the indefinite detention powers of the NDAA for American citizens on the grounds of unconstitutionality.
Indefinite detention without trial: Section 1021
The detention sections of the NDAA begin by "affirm[ing]" that the authority of the President under the AUMF, a joint resolution passed in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, includes the power to detain, via the Armed Forces, any person (including U.S. citizens) "who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners", and anyone who commits a "belligerent act" against the U.S. or its coalition allies in aid of such enemy forces, under the law of war, "without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF]". The text authorizes trial by military tribunal, or "transfer to the custody or control of the person's country of origin", or transfer to "any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity".
Addressing previous conflict with the Obama Administration regarding the wording of the Senate text, the Senate-House compromise text, in sub-section 1021(d), also affirms that nothing in the Act "is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force". The final version of the bill also provides, in sub-section(e), that "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States." As reflected in Senate debate over the bill, there is a great deal of controversy over the status of existing law.
An amendment to the Act that would have replaced current text with a requirement for executive clarification of detention authorities was rejected by the Senate.
According to Senator Carl Levin, "the language which precluded the application of section 1031 to American Citizens was in the bill that we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee and the Administration asked us to remove the language which says that US Citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section".