Senate passes $631 billion defense bill
The Senate also voted to restrict the transfer of detainees held at Guantanamo to prisons in the United States.
Further stoking the debate over U.S. detention policy — and setting up a fight with the House — the Senate also added a provision saying the government may not detain a U.S. citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial even if there is a declaration of war or the authorization to use military force.
Current law denies suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens seized within the nation's borders, the right to trial and subjects them to the possibility they would be held indefinitely. It reaffirms the post-Sept. 11 authorization for the use of military force that allows indefinite detention of enemy combatants.
That provision had created a conservative backlash, and a coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans pushed for the new provision.
The bill sends a clear message to Obama and the military to accelerate the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan. On a strong bipartisan vote of 62-33 last week, the Senate endorsed Obama's timetable to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014 but pressed for a quicker pace, without specifying how that would be achieved.
Obama and the military are engaged in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 66,000 U.S. combat troops there now.
The bill added stringent new sanctions on Iran's energy and shipping sectors in a fresh attempt to hobble the Islamic Republic's economy and hamper its nuclear ambitions.
The sanctions build upon penalties that Congress has passed — and Obama has implemented — that target Tehran's financial and energy sectors.
Officials in Washington argue that the sanctions have undermined Tehran's economy and robust oil sales, thwarting its suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who have shepherded sanctions bills through Congress, sponsored the latest package that also would close a major loophole — the ability of Iran to circumvent sanctions and barter oil for precious metals. Turkey has been bartering gold for oil.
The sanctions would designate Iran's energy, port, shipping and ship-building sectors as "entities of proliferation" and prohibit transactions with these areas. The legislation also would penalize individuals selling or supplying commodities such as graphite, aluminum and steel to Iran, all products that are crucial to Tehran's ship-building and nuclear operations.
The administration had complained that the new sanctions were duplicative and unnecessary.
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