Republicans reject amendment by Specter
By ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer Thu
Sep 28, 12:56 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The Senate, siding with President Bush
shortly after he personally lobbied lawmakers at the
Capitol, rejected a move Thursday by a leading
Republican to allow terrorism suspects to challenge
their imprisonment in court.
The vote paved the way for final passage of Bush's
plan to establish "military commissions" to prosecute
terrorism suspects in legislation that also spells out
violations of the Geneva Conventions, a treaty that
sets international standards for the treatment of war
Republicans say the bill is necessary to ensure that
terrorists can be brought to justice and that
CIA personnel will not be charged with war crimes when
interrogating these suspects.
Barring any last-minute hiccups, the bill could reach
the president's desk as early as Friday.
Bush had gone to Capitol Hill earlier Thursday, urging
senators to follow the House lead and approve the
plan. "The American people need to know we're working
together to win the war on terror," he told reporters
as he left.
The Senate voted 48-51 against an amendment by Sen.
Arlen Specter (news, bio, voting record) that would
have allowed terror suspects to file "habeas corpus"
petitions in court. Specter contends the ability to
such pleas is considered a fundamental legal right and
is necessary to uncover abuse.
"This is a constitutional requirement and it is
fundamental that Congress not legislate contradiction
to a constitutional interpretation of the Supreme
Court," said Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary
Three Republicans voted with Specter but others in the
GOP caucus contended that providing terror suspects
the right to unlimited appeals weighs down the federal
"It impedes the war effort, and it is irresponsible,"
said Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Democrats sided with Specter.
"The habeas corpus language in this bill is as legally
abusive of rights guaranteed in the Constitution as
the actions at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and secret
prisons that were physically abusive of detainees,"
said Sen. Carl Levin (news, bio, voting record), the
top Democrat on the Armed Services panel.
The House on Wednesday passed a nearly identical
measure on a 253-168, following bitter partisan debate
in which Republicans and Democrats traded barbs on
which political party would better protect Americans.
After the Senate passes its bill, the House will vote
again Friday to approve the Senate measure and send it
to the president to sign, according to House and
Senate leadership aides.
Three Democrats also were being given opportunities to
offer amendments Thursday, but all were expected to be
rejected along party lines. Democrats have said the
legislation would give the president too much latitude
when deciding whether aggressive interrogations cross
the line and violate international standards of
The legislation would establish a military court
system to prosecute terror suspects, a response to the
Supreme Court ruling in June that Congress' blessing
was necessary. Under the bill, a terrorist being held
at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba can be tried by
"military commission" so long as he is afforded
certain rights, such as the ability to confront
evidence given to the jury and access to defense
Those subject to the commission trials would be any
person "who has engaged in hostilities or who has
purposefully and materially supported hostilities
against the United States or its co-belligerents."
Proponents say this definition would not apply to U.S.
citizens but would allow the detention and prosecution
of individuals financing terrorist networks.
While the bill would spell out legal rights for the
terror suspects to ensure a fair trial, it would
eliminate other rights common in military and civilian
courts. For example, the commission would be allowed
to consider hearsay as evidence so long as a judge
determines it is reliable. Hearsay is frequently
allowed in international military tribunals, but is
barred from being considered in civilian courts.
The court would bar the military commission from
considering evidence obtained by interrogation
techniques since December 2005 that involve "cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment" as defined by the 5th,
8th and 14th amendments. Coerced statements taken
before the 2005 ban was put into effect would not be
subjected to the same standard language Democrats
charge creates a loophole for abuse.
The measure also provides extensive definitions of war
crimes such as torture, rape and biological
experiments, but gives the president broad authority
to decide which other techniques U.S. interrogators
may use legally. The provisions are intended to
protect CIA interrogators from being prosecuted for
For nearly two weeks the White House and rebellious
Republican senators have fought publicly over whether
Bush's plan would give a president too much authority.
But they struck a compromise last Thursday.
"This bill is everything we don't believe in," said
Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
The House resolution is HR 6166. The Senate bill is S
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