In a formal “Statement of Administration Policy” (pdf) released today, President Obama lays out a number of objections to H.R. 5136, the defense authorization bill passed by the House Armed Services Committee last week, even threatening to veto the legislation if Congress does not remove a provision he claims would “seriously disrupt” the Defense Department’s F-35 program and his administration’s plans to purchase 42 of the jet fighters. Notably absent from the list? Any mention of language offered by Florida Republican Jeff Miller — and unanimously approved by the Democrat-controlled panel — that calls on the Pentagon Inspector General to “conduct an investigation of the conduct and practices of lawyers” representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a measure that has been condemned by civil libertarians and others familiar with how legal systems are supposed to work.
As American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm put it in a letter sent this week to the Senate Armed Services Committee, “The American system of justice depends on the essential role of lawyers in counseling their clients,” which “includes providing zealous and effective counsel, even to those accused of heinous crimes against this nation in the name of causes that evoke our contempt.” In a sane country, this wouldn’t be controversial.
Writing earlier today, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald noted that, despite its approval by the House Armed Services Committee, several barriers remain to the Gitmo provision ultimately becoming law, including a forthcoming House floor vote, a markup in the Senate “and then, if it makes it that far, the President’s signature.” But as Greenwald noted, if the language is to be purged from the bill, “Democrats are going to have to insist on its removal. It remains to be seen if they are willing to do that.”
One Democrat unwilling to insist on its removal? Barack Obama, whose administration appears more concerned with its ability to buy expensive fighter planes than ensuring Gitmo lawyers aren’t harassed and intimidated.