US & Canada

Terror suspect defence bill passes US House

FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies at Senate Judiciary Committee 14 December 2011
Image caption FBI Director Robert Mueller said it was not clear how the provision would impact law enforcement agencies

The US House of Representatives has passed a defence bill likely to change the way the US detains terror suspects.

The bill passed after the White House lifted a veto threat, noting "several important changes" had been made. It is likely to go to the Senate on Thursday.

The bill also includes additional sanctions against Iran's central bank and freezes some aid to Pakistan.

The clauses are part of a wider, $662bn (£428bn) defence bill approving weapons systems and military salaries.

In the most scrutinised parts of the legislation, the bill would deny terror suspects - including US citizens - of the right to trial and would permit indefinite detention.

'Additional discretion'

The issue is part of a wider debate over whether to treat terror suspects as criminals or prisoners of war, correspondents say.

Top members of the president's national security team, including Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, negotiated for changes to the parts of the bill that deal with the handling of terror suspects.

The law will require that the military take custody of terrorism suspects but safeguards the president's ability to prosecute detainees in the civilian justice system.

US citizens would be exempt from this provision, and affirms that the changes would not affect US law enforcement agencies.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the bill "does not challenge the president's ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the American people."

But some officials had more practical objections to the clause. FBI Director Robert Mueller criticised the provision for its lack of clarity on how the changes would be implemented at the time of arrest.

The White House said that some of those concerns remain.

"While we remain concerned about the uncertainty that this law will create for our counter-terrorism professionals, the most recent changes give the president additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented," Mr Carney added.

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