House OKs Wide-Ranging Defense Authorization Bill

A compromise defense bill is making its way through Congress. The authorization measure deals with everything from sexual assault in the military to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to operations in Afghanistan.

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And it wasn't just a budget deal yesterday. The House, last night, passed a compromise defense bill and the Senate will take that up next week. This legislation doesn't just provide a blueprint for how much money the Pentagon can spend. It also dictates what the military can and cannot do on a whole range of issues - everything from sexual assault in the military, to Guantanamo Bay to the war in Afghanistan. NPR's Tom Bowman has our story.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Let's start with sexual assault in the military. Two separate events put the issue front and center before Congress. First, a Pentagon study said reports of assaults were up more than 30 percent. Second, an Air Force general overturned a jury's sexual assault conviction of another officer. That infuriated lawmakers, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. She raised the issue earlier this year.

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SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: These brave men and women are in the fight of their life and it's not on some far off foreign soil. It's right within their own ranks.

BOWMAN: Gillibrand wanted to remove commanders from handling sexual assault cases, and turn them over to officers outside the chain of command. Congressional negotiators didn't go that far. They decided that commanders could not overturn a court martial verdict, but could still handle such cases.

Another issue: The detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama wants to close the facility, where 162 detainees are now being held. Some have been there for years. Congress has barred the prisoners from being sent to the U.S. and has made it hard to send them back to their own countries. About half of them come from Yemen.

So lawmakers came up with this compromise: The bill will make it easier to send prisoners overseas, including to those from Yemen. Yemen must guarantee it will detain, rehabilitate or prosecute them. There are plans underway to build a facility there. Finally, the measure authorizes money for military operations, most of it for Afghanistan.

It sets aside $81 billion for the next year. But that hefty price tag reflects the fact that the war is winding down. Because last year, the number was even higher: $88 billion. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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