12.20.13

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy on the 2014 Defense Authorization Act.

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, the compromise Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act is an important authorization bill that I intend to support. This will be the second legislative matter considered by the Senate this week that reflects the kind of compromise too often missing from our deliberations in Congress. It does not meet the needs of every Senator, but it marks a step in the right direction and will allow the Department of Defense to move forward key programs in the coming year.

I understand the frustration of some Senators who were keen to offer amendments to this authorization bill. In fact, two measures I introduced during the Senate's consideration were not included in the compromise. These provisions would have extended protections for human rights by aiding international efforts to prosecute war criminals and compensating innocent civilians who fall victim to combat operations. Both provisions have significant support, and I remain committed to continuing to work to see them enacted in the new year. But despite the best efforts of Chairman Levin and Ranking Member Inhofe, the amendment process in the Senate was derailed by irrelevant proposals, which prevented provisions like these from receiving consideration. Nonetheless, I will support this compromise..

The bill before the Senate authorizes the activities of the Department of Defense, the single largest U.S. Government entity. As a result, manufacturers and service providers across the United States will keep Americans employed making and doing things for the Department. It means that the U.S. Armed Forces can take the steps needed to address threats to our security. Most importantly, it means the members of the Armed Forces and their families can count on having the equipment and support they need while selflessly serving to keep us safe.

The Defense authorization bill before us also contains important changes that will help the administration transfer more individuals out of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. It includes a provision that relaxes the current onerous certification requirements that must be satisfied before transferring detainees to third countries. These requirements have proven to be unnecessary and counterproductive.

Regrettably, the compromise bill retains two limitations that were included in the House-passed version of the authorization. The legislation extends the current prohibition on constructing facilities in the United States to house Guantanamo detainees and also extends the ban on transferring detainees to the United States for detention or trial. I strongly believe that the executive branch must have all options available in handling terrorism cases, particularly the ability to prosecute terrorists in Federal criminal courts. That is why I voted against an amendment by Senator Ayotte during the Senate floor debate in November that included these same restrictions.

Although I would have preferred the more favorable detention-related provisions contained in the underlying Senate bill, this compromise represents an improvement over existing law.

Reforms to the military justice system in this compromise also accomplish an improvement of the status quo. This bill includes roughly two dozen changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Department of Defense policy that enhance victims' rights and protections and amend the investigative and prosecutorial process. Among the measures included in the bill is the removal of a commander's ability to overturn jury convictions, and a secondary review of any decision made not to prosecute, whether made by the convening authority or the staff judge advocate. Additionally, the 5-year statute of limitations on trial by court-martial for additional offenses involving sex-related crimes is eliminated, and those accused of certain sex-related offenses are required to receive dishonorable discharges or dismissals if convicted.

These important accountability measures will be supported by the removal of the ``good soldier'' defense for the accused, and victims will further be protected by changes that prevent them from being forced to testify at article 32 proceedings and at trial. Though more can be done, these and other provisions adopted represent a significant improvement and merit the Senate's support.

There are many other provisions in this bill that are worthy of highlighting, but as cochair of the Senate National Guard Caucus, I am most pleased that this bill does not compromise on supporting the National Guard. As an essential part of U.S. security at home and abroad, the National Guard is an integral part of the Armed Forces today and will remain so in the future. Among the many provisions that demonstrate the strong commitment to the National Guard felt by Members of Congress in both Chambers, two are most important. First, the authorization effectively ends the process of ``off-ramping,'' wherein a National Guard unit scheduled to deploy is replaced at the last minute by an Active unit, preserving both certainty and operational readiness for our National Guard personnel and families.

Second, it requires congressional budget justification documents to specifically enumerate funding levels for embedded mental health providers in National Guard and Reserve units. For too many years, men and women in the Guard and Reserves have come home from war to inadequate mental health resources. The Congress took the important step of embedding mental health providers in units, but resources disproportionally moved towards the large, Active military bases, while our hometown heroes at small drill centers around the country went without. With specific enumeration, we can take a better look at resource allocation and we in the Congress can make sure members of the Guard and Reserve get similar access to their Active counterparts.

The authorization before the Senate is the result of compromise. The Senate will close this session of Congress on the heels of two bipartisan votes that passed a 2-year budget and this important authorization bill. I hope that this bodes well for further cooperation and compromise in the new year.

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