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Key GOP lawmakers balk at Bush detainee plan

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/nation/09/08/8detain.html Key GOP lawmakers balk at Bush detainee plan Even top uniformed military lawyers
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 8, 2006

      Key GOP lawmakers balk at Bush detainee plan
      Even top uniformed military lawyers said it would
      violate basic principles of justice.

      By Charles Babington, R. Jeffrey Smith
      Friday, September 08, 2006

      WASHINGTON — President Bush's campaign to sharply
      limit the courtroom rights of suspected terrorists ran
      into opposition Thursday from key Republican senators
      and even top uniformed military lawyers, who said it
      would violate basic principles of justice.

      The military lawyers told a U.S. House panel that they
      particularly object to Bush's bid to allow terrorism
      suspects to be convicted on secret evidence that is
      withheld from the defendants, an objection embraced by
      at least three prominent members of the Senate Armed
      Services Committee.

      One of those is John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Vietnam
      War prisoner and a 2008 presidential hopeful who faces
      a political dilemma. He has won acclaim for standing
      up to Bush on issues such as humane treatment of
      detainees, but he is eager to build conservative
      support for the GOP primaries. Several colleagues
      cautioned McCain and the others to stick with Bush on
      the tribunals question.

      House leaders scheduled a vote in two weeks on
      legislation likely to mirror the White House's

      The day's events suggest that Republicans may spend a
      good portion of the 109th Congress' final weeks trying
      to resolve an issue that could factor heavily in the
      Nov. 7 elections. Earlier divisions among Senate
      Republicans on issues such as immigration have
      contributed to legislative stalemates, and party
      leaders are eager to avoid a similar impasse over
      detainee trials.

      Bush placed the issue near the top of the political
      agenda Wednesday when he announced that several top al
      Qaeda suspects have been moved from secret CIA-run
      prisons to the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay,
      Cuba. The president suggested that Congress will be to
      blame if it fails to approve his proposals for
      prosecuting the detainees under guidelines that
      critics say are unconstitutional and unfair.

      Lawmakers in both parties agree that enemy combatants
      should be afforded fewer rights than defendants enjoy
      in civil trials or, for the most part, in military
      courts-martial. But several uniformed lawyers told the
      House Armed Services Committee Thursday that the White
      House goes too far in seeking to convict detainees on
      classified information never shared with suspects.

      "I am not aware of any situation in the world where
      there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized
      by civilized people where an individual can be tried
      and convicted without seeing the evidence against
      him," said Brig. Gen. James Walker, staff judge
      advocate to the Marine Corps commandant.

      Bush's high-profile drive for his version of the
      legislation has been particularly awkward for the
      three Republican senators who circulated a different
      bill earlier this week: McCain; Armed Services
      Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va.; and Lindsey
      Graham, R-S.C., a former Air Force attorney.

      A top GOP Senate aide who asked that he not be
      identified because of the sensitive nature of the
      deliberations predicted that the trio will find it
      difficult to hold their ground because they are
      defending "a bloodless legal principle" while the
      White House is pushing the politically popular idea of
      convicting those accused of the 2001 atrocities.

      But virtually all Senate Democrats, and at least a few
      more Republicans, appear sympathetic to Warner, McCain
      and Graham. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said he takes
      very seriously the testimony of the uniformed lawyers.
      He also said Bush was unwise to come close to
      threatening Congress in his Wednesday speech.

      "We don't work for the president," Hagel said.

      Under Bush's proposal, any detainees eventually put
      forward for trial — a group that may or may not
      include all 14 suspects who figured in Bush's
      Wednesday announcement — could be convicted or
      acquitted under conditions that differ sharply from
      standard U.S. criminal trials. The "jury" in a trial
      by the commissions not involving the death penalty
      would consist of at least five military officers, and
      in death penalty cases a dozen. A presiding officer,
      dubbed the military "judge" and possessing legal
      training or experience, would decide all legal matters
      but would not vote.

      Those eligible for such military trials would be any
      foreigners deemed "unlawful enemy combatants," a term
      the administration defines more broadly than Bush did
      in an executive order shortly after the 2001 terrorist
      attacks. That category would include not just al Qaeda
      and Taliban members, but anyone affiliated with a
      force or organization" engaged in hostilities against
      the United States and its allies, who commits hostile
      acts for such groups, or — most broadly — who
      "supports hostilities" that aid such groups.

      Terrorism would be only one of 27 offenses that could
      be charged under the Bush plan; the others include
      conspiracy, hostage-taking, torture, rape and

      During the trials, prosecutors would be permitted to
      use classified information to secure convictions,
      which the defendants and their lawyers would not be
      told about. The prosecutors could also rely on
      hearsay, or evidence obtained indirectly, and evidence
      obtained by coercion if the panel's chief deems it
      reliable and directly related to the accusations.

      A rival set of rules circulated by Warner, McCain and
      Graham would bar any use in the trials of secret
      evidence or information obtained from "cruel, inhuman,
      or degrading treatment" and admit information from
      coercive interrogations only if the military judge
      finds it reliable and pertinent. It would allow trials
      to be closed only to protect information that would
      damage national security, leaving out any reference to
      the public interest as a reason.
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