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Biden signs $770 billion defense bill but criticizes Guantanamo Bay restrictions

Guantanamo has about 40 prisoners, down from its peak of nearly 800 detainees.
Image: Joe Biden
President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday.Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law a $770 billion defense bill he criticized for including provisions that effectively make it impossible for him to shut down the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

In a statement, Biden said that while he approved of the measure overall, he was unhappy with a number of legislative restrictions, including one aimed at thwarting efforts to close the facility, which former President Barack Obama had vowed to do.

"Unfortunately ... the Act continues to bar the use of funds to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to the custody or effective control of certain foreign countries," Biden said, adding that another component "bars the use of funds to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees into the United States unless certain conditions are met."

"It is the longstanding position of the executive branch that these provisions unduly impair the ability of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees and where to send them upon release," he said. "I urge the Congress to eliminate these restrictions as soon as possible."

Former President George W. Bush opened the detention facility in 2002 after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. At its peak, Guantánamo Bay held nearly 800 detainees. The facility now has about 40.

Biden on Monday was generally supportive of the annual military policy bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, saying it "provides vital benefits and enhances access to justice for military personnel and their families, and includes critical authorities to support our country's national defense."

The legislation authorizes a 2.7 percent pay raise for service members and the civilian Defense Department workforce, $27 billion for new Navy warships and $75.3 million to operate the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

Biden raised concerns about other provisions in his statement, including language that requires executive departments and agencies to submit reports to congressional committees "that will, in the ordinary course, include highly sensitive classified information, including information that could reveal critical intelligence sources or military operational plans."

Biden also criticized a part of the bill that requires the president to seek congressional approval for members of a Defense Department working group, arguing that it is unconstitutional and that it would be "empowering part of the Congress to directly interfere with the executive branch's selection of employees."