Bush submits new terror detainee bill


Bush submits new terror detainee bill

By Anne Plummer Flaherty, Associated Press Writer | July 28, 2006

WASHINGTON --U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained
indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation
proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early
version of the bill.

A 32-page draft measure is intended to authorize the Pentagon's tribunal
system, established shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks to detain and
prosecute detainees captured in the war on terror. The tribunal system was
thrown out last month by the Supreme Court.

Administration officials, who declined to comment on the draft, said the
proposal was still under discussion and no final decisions had been made.

Senior officials are expected to discuss a final proposal before the Senate
Armed Services Committee next Wednesday.

According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all "enemy
combatants" until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as
anyone "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition
partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this

Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could
authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only
tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.

"That's the big question ... the definition of who can be detained," said
Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy
of the bill to a Web blog.

Scott L. Silliman, a retired Air Force Judge Advocate, said the broad
definition of enemy combatants is alarming because a U.S. citizen loosely
suspected of terror ties would lose access to a civilian court -- and all
the rights that come with it. Administration officials have said they want
to establish a secret court to try enemy combatants that factor in realities
of the battlefield and would protect classified information.

The administration's proposal, as considered at one point during
discussions, would toss out several legal rights common in civilian and
military courts, including barring hearsay evidence, guaranteeing "speedy
trials" and granting a defendant access to evidence. The proposal also would
allow defendants to be barred from their own trial and likely allow the
submission of coerced testimony.

Senior Republican lawmakers have said they were briefed on the general
discussions and have some concerns but are awaiting a final proposal before
commenting on specifics.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon
England are expected to discuss the proposal in an open hearing next
Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Military lawyers also
are scheduled to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation is the administration's response to a June 29 Supreme Court
decision, which concluded the Pentagon could not prosecute military
detainees using secret tribunals established soon after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks. The court ruled the tribunals were not authorized by law
and violated treaty obligations under the Geneva Conventions, which
established many international laws for warfare.

The landmark court decision countered long-held assertions by the Bush
administration that the president did not need permission from Congress to
prosecute "enemy combatants" captured in the war on terror and that al Qaeda
members were not subject to Geneva Convention protections because of their
unconventional status.

"In a time of ongoing armed conflict, it is neither practicable nor
appropriate for enemy combatants like al Qaeda terrorists to be tried like
American citizens in federal courts or courts-martial," the proposal states.

The draft proposal contends that an existing law -- passed by the Senate
last year after exhaustive negotiations between the White House and Sen.
John McCain, R-Ariz. -- that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
should "fully satisfy" the nation's obligations under the Geneva

Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said
Friday he expects to take up the detainee legislation in September.

... That night we saw with dread surprise
the hangmans scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute,
the gallows-tree had taken root.

Now as wide, or a little more
than the steps that led to the courthouse door.
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
half way up on the courthouse wall...

- Hangman by Maurice Ogden