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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I am voting to pass the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, NDAA.
This is not a perfect piece of legislation. But it contains important hard-fought provisions that I am unwilling to jeopardize or risk denying to the brave men and women defending our Nation, and their families. Specifically, this bill represents the year's last opportunity to pass a 1.6 percent across-the-board pay raise for our men and women in the military. The bill also includes a bipartisan provision Senator Collins and I have been working on for over a year to get passed: an effort to protect victims of sexual assault in the military. As a veteran, I have been deeply troubled by what Senator Collins and our colleague in the House, Representative Tsongas, have heard about the alarming incidences of sexual assault in the military--which is why we worked so hard through this bill to strengthen support for sexual assault prevention, legal protection for victims of sexual assault, and assistance for victims.
There are, however, problems with this bill which still concern me. When the bill was on the floor, I fought for amendments that would have stripped troubling detainee provisions out of the bill entirely. I also voted for other amendments that would have significantly narrowed the scope of the detainee provisions. Unfortunately, notwithstanding my votes, those amendments were not adopted by the Senate. The conferees, with our urging, and with the President's veto threat, made some progress in improving that part of the bill. I commend the conferees for working to address concerns of mine and many other Senators, senior administration officials, and the public over the detention-related provisions in the NDAA. While the provisions in the conference report are an improvement over their counterparts in the bill that the Senate passed last week, we need to continue to examine detention law and policy to ensure that the treatment of detainees is consistent with our national security and with core American values.
The progress made in conference on the detention-related provisions is significant enough that I am comfortable voting for the bill, and the White House has lifted its veto threat. Specifically, the conference report includes several changes to the detainee provisions, including a new paragraph that clearly states that nothing in the bill ``shall be construed to affect the existing criminal enforcement and national security authorities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other domestic law enforcement agency,'' provisions that give the President additional discretion over implementation, and a transfer of the waiver authority from the Secretary of Defense to the President. In its totality, these changes led the White House to state that the ``the language does not challenge or constrain the President's ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people, and the President's senior advisors will not recommend a veto.''
Given all this, as well as the fact that the detention-related provisions of the bill have been improved from a civil liberties perspective, and in light of the other urgent priorities contained in the overall bill, I am voting in favor of the conference report.
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