US President Barack Obama announced measures allowing civilian investigators to handle cases involving terror suspects, effectively sidestepping a 2011 law requiring they be brought before military courts.
The measures amount to an arsenal of restrictions on a clause imposed upon him by the US Congress, and provide more flexibility to the president in deciding whether to use military tribunals to try foreign terror suspects.
The move is likely to upset lawmakers who included the rule in last year's(NDAA), but Obama appeared to be following through on a commitment to not uphold parts of the rule, particular those which could pave the way for the indefinite detention of US citizens without trial.
"The executive branch must utilize all elements of national power -- including military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic, and economic tools -- to effectively confront the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and its associated forces," Obama wrote in a presidential directive.
The White House, he added, "must retain the flexibility to determine how to apply those tools to the unique facts and circumstances we face in confronting this diverse and evolving threat.
"A rigid, inflexible requirement to place suspected terrorists into military custody would undermine the national security interests of the United States, compromising our ability to collect intelligence and to incapacitate dangerous individuals," he added.
Obama signed the NDAA under protest on December 31 which required that foreign terror suspects affiliated with Al-Qaeda and plotting or conducting attacks on US soil be brought before military courts.
He attached a statement to the bill, saying he signed it "despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists."
The December law revived debate over the complicated legal thicket surrounding the treatment of terror suspects and over rules hurriedly drawn up by the previous Bush administration after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Obama has sought to preserve the option of trying some terror suspects in federal courts, or for those accused of plotting new attacks against the United States to be processed through the civilian legal system, and his move Tuesday appeared to solidify that option.
While the NDAA rules are aimed at non-Americans, Obama waived the NDAA requirements of military detention when "placing a foreign country's nationals or residents in US military custody will impede counterterrorism cooperation, including but not limited to sharing intelligence or providing other cooperation... in investigations or prosecutions of suspected terrorists."
The directive is aimed in part at preventing a disruption of terror investigations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Obama specifically waived the NDAA requirements for US citizens and permanent residents, as well as anyone arrested by a federal agency in the US, such as the FBI, or by state or local law enforcement.
In his statement after signing the law, Obama insisted that his administration "will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens."
Civil libertarian groups such as the ACLU had warned about such eventualities under NDAA.
Obama's waivers were released one day before the US Senate convenes a hearing on the law's military detention previsions.
"This hearing will be Congress's first opportunity to own up to its mistakes and start to fix them," the ACLU said on its website in a statement released prior to Obama's directive.
"The NDAA is dangerous because it authorizes this president and all future presidents to order the military to lock away civilians picked up far from any battlefield, in indefinite detention without charge or trial based on suspicion alone."
Source: AFP Global Edition