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Friday, September 08, 2006

Not going far

I am the law, I am judge Bush

Pentagon Lawyers Challenge Detainee Plan

Published: September 7, 2006

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 — The Bush administration’s proposal to bring leading terror suspects to trial met stiff resistance Thursday from key Republicans and top military lawyers who said that some provisions would not withstand legal scrutiny or do enough to repair the nation’s tarnished reputation internationally.

Democrats, meanwhile, said they were inclined to go along with Senate Republicans who have been drafting an alternative to the White House plan, one that would allow greater rights to defendants. That left Republicans to argue among themselves about what the tribunals would look like.

The skeptical response threatened to rob the issue of the political momentum the White House hoped it would provide going into the closely fought midterm elections. A day after President Bush unveiled the plan at the White House, senior administration officials said that Mr. Bush was willing to negotiate with Congress about the shape of legislation to establish tribunals, which would replace those struck down in June by the Supreme Court.

The administration officials said the decision to transfer high-level terror suspects from Central Intelligence Agency prisons to military custody had been the result of months of secret debate at the highest levels of government. The officials said the change had been most vigorously championed by the State Department, under Condoleezza Rice, against some resistance from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, which had defended the status quo, in which high-level Al Qaeda leaders, including the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, remained in secret C.I.A. custody.

The 14 terror suspects recently transferred to the American detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under the administration plan would face war crimes trials if Congress approves new tribunals. On Thursday, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of the American detention facility, said the prisoners had been registered for the first time with the International Committee of the Red Cross, but he would not say when the prisoners had arrived, whether they had arrived together, or how long he had known in advance that they were coming.

In Congress, Republican leaders said the House would vote on the president’s proposal the week after next, and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Representative Duncan Hunter of California, argued in favor of the administration’s approach in a hearing on Thursday morning with military lawyers.

But the military lawyers argued back. And the Senate Republicans said there were still several areas of contention between them and the administration, chiefly, a proposal to deny the accused the right to see classified evidence shown to the jury.

“It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has played a key role in the drafting of legislation as a member of the Armed Services Committee and a military judge. “ ‘Trust us, You’re guilty, We’re going to execute you, but we can’t tell you why’? That’s not going to pass muster, that’s not necessary.”

Senate majority leader Bill Frist pressed the chairman of the committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, to quickly resolve the differences between their draft legislation and the administration’s proposal. Early in the day, he set a 24-hour deadline to decide whether to send the president’s legislation or the committee’s to the Senate for consideration.

But after several meetings throughout the day, Mr. Warner said late Thursday that he had prevailed on Mr. Frist to allow the committee more time to draft its legislation, and that Mr. Frist would wait until Monday to decide whether the president’s bill or the committee’s would become the basis for the discussions in the Senate.

“Frist realizes the progress that I have made as chairman, and he wants to get it right,” Mr. Warner said.

President Bush announced his proposal for bringing terror suspects to trial on Wednesday as part of a round of speeches on national security aimed at drawing a sharp distinction between the two parties: Democrats as weak on terror, Republicans strong. The administration created its system of tribunals shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but the Supreme Court struck down those tribunals in June, saying that they violated the constitution and international law.

Congress is going to punt on this. Bush can scream, but there is no reason to run to do this. A democratic Congress won't go along with this, but why should the GOP take the beating for this? SCOTUS is probably going to toss the whole commission mess in the end anyway.

posted by Steve @ 12:11:00 AM

12:11:00 AM

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