Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bush's Plan = Legalized Star Chambers

Imagine that you've been arrested and held for trial, except that only the prosecutor and the judge can see the evidence against you. You can't see it, your lawyer can't see it, because it's classified, it might include sensitive information as to our national security.

How can you defend yourself and avoid being executed?

You can't.

That's the legislation that Bush wants the Republican-controlled Congress to pass.

In a speech today, Bush admitted that his government has been breaking domestic and international law by torturing and imprisoning suspected Al Qaeda members in secret prisons:
President Bush pushed a hard line Wednesday on trying terror suspects through military tribunals, exhorting Congress to allow evidence to be withheld from a defendant if necessary to protect classified information.

``One of the most important tasks is for Congress to recognize that we need the tools necessary to win this war on terror and we'll continue to discuss with Congress ways to make sure that this nation is capable of defending herself,'' Bush said after a Cabinet meeting.

Senate leaders were briefed on the legislative plan Tuesday night. It already has met resistance from lawmakers who say it would set a dangerous precedent.

Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have drafted a rival proposal. It would guarantee certain legal rights to defendants, including access to all evidence used against them.

In both military and civilian courts, a defendant's right to see evidence is viewed as indispensable to mounting an adequate defense.

``I think it's important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used,'' said McCain, R-Ariz.

Another potential point of conflict is whether coerced testimony should be admissible. Administration officials have said allowing coerced testimony in some cases may be necessary, but McCain said the committee bill would ban it entirely.

The White House asked television networks for live coverage of Bush's announcement later Wednesday.

The president has said he eventually wants to close the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba as critics and allies around the world have urged. But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush wasn't announcing any such plan Wednesday.

``We want to bring to justice those who are detained there,'' Snow said.

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in June that Bush's plan to try the detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law, the administration has been working on a new strategy. It wants to try some of the hundreds of suspected al-Qaida and Taliban operatives rounded up in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.

Although briefed on the details of the administration's proposal, McCain said he still had not seen the White House plan in writing and was hopeful an agreement could be reached.

``We have some differences that we are in discussion about,'' McCain said. ``I believe we can work this out.''

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is expected to side with the administration, possibly bypassing Warner's bill entirely and putting only Bush's proposal on the floor.

Frist ``believes it is a dangerous idea that terrorists and those around them automatically receive classified information about the means and methods used in the war on terror,'' said a senior Frist aide.

Senate Democrats so far have sided with Warner and McCain, setting up a potential showdown on the floor this month just before members leave for midterm elections. Frist has said he would like to have a vote by the end of the month.

Of the differences with lawmakers on the details of how to try the suspects, Snow declared, ``It's going to get worked out.'' Asked if the White House will negotiate with the lawmakers, he replied, ``It may be that the Hill is willing to negotiate.''

Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon was releasing a new Army manual that spells out appropriate conduct on issues including prisoner interrogation. The manual applies to all the armed services, but not the CIA, which also has come under investigation for mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States began using the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in eastern Cuba in January 2002 to hold people suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. About 445 detainees remain there, including 115 considered eligible for transfer or release.

Guantanamo has been a flashpoint for both U.S. and international debate over the treatment of detainees without trial and the source of allegations of torture, denied by U.S. officials. Even U.S. allies have criticized the facility and process.

The camp came under worldwide condemnation after it opened more than four years ago, when pictures showed prisoners kneeling, shackled and being herded into wire cages. It intensified with reports of heavy-handed interrogations, hunger strikes and suicides.

Bush wanted to prosecute detainees through a type of military trial used in the aftermath of World War II. But the Supreme Court, in a 5-3 ruling, said it violated U.S. military law and the Geneva conventions.

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