Allows Coerced Evidence
By Maura Reynolds, Richard B. Schmitt and David G. Savage
Posted by Bulatlat
could also be based on material unseen by the accused. The Senate may
President Bush asked Congress Wednesday to approve a new system of
military-style justice for terrorism suspects that would, for the first
time, permit convictions in American courts based on the use of coerced
administration proposal also would permit war crimes convictions based on
evidence that was never made available to the accused.
reliance on such controversial information at trial would be strictly
limited, permitted only under a judge's ruling that it was relevant and
credible, and that the use of coerced statements would stop short of
allowing evidence obtained through torture.
"I want to be
absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does
not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values," the
president said, announcing that the new system would be used to prosecute
the most notorious detainees in U.S. custody.
administration's proposed rules resemble those imposed under an executive
order that Bush issued shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks; it set up
military commissions for terrorist suspects captured overseas, some of
whom were sent to the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The
Supreme Court struck down that system in June, in part because it had not
been approved by Congress.
Now Bush is
going back to Congress seeking approval for his military commissions, with
changes, two months before an election in which national security has
taken center stage.
It is not clear
whether the president's plan will gain traction on Capitol Hill, where
lawmakers have been working for weeks on their own proposals for military
commissions to try terrorist suspects.
Two of the
leading authors of a nearly complete Senate bill, Armed Services Committee
Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said
their bill differs from the administration plan in key areas — including
the use of classified and coerced evidence — but also said that
differences may not be insurmountable.
"The goal for
me is to take the committee bill and the administration bill and find
middle ground so we can get commissions authorized in a way that will
withstand judicial scrutiny, get congressional buy-in, and be a form we
can be proud of as a nation to render justice to terrorists," Graham said.
Details of the
Senate-drafted bill are expected to be released in the next two days,
adopted a wait-and-see posture Wednesday, indicating they were more likely
to support the Warner-Graham bill than the administration's plan. Sen.
Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's top Democrat, said he had "serious
concerns" about the Bush bill.
described the policy outlined by Bush as a retreat for the administration.
"This is a major reversal from past Bush administration policy, which held
that no new law was needed. It is essentially a mea culpa, cloaked in
rhetoric," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
In the House,
where Republican members largely have supported the administration's
approach to detainees, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), chairman of the
Armed Services Committee, planned to convene a hearing on the
administration's proposal today. The administration's proposed system
would incorporate many procedures used for U.S. military personnel in
court-martial proceedings — but with several major distinctions. It would
allow hearsay evidence and confessions obtained through coercive
interrogations, assuming a judge found the information to be probative and
The rules would
entitle the accused to public trials, access to lawyers and the right to
be present during trial, raising the prospect of high-profile proceedings
involving what the government has labeled some of the most ruthless
terrorists in the world.
The White House
called on Congress to enact the legislation as a first step toward
bringing to justice the likes of alleged Sept. 11 planner Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed and 13 other terror suspects who had been held by the CIA in
undisclosed prisons overseas.
Bush said in a
surprise announcement Wednesday that the detainees had exhausted their
value to intelligence authorities and had been transferred to Guantanamo
Bay. But administration officials acknowledged that the timing of any
trials would depend on what rules lawmakers embrace.
been working on legislation related to detainees since the Supreme Court
ruled that the administration's proposal for military commissions was
senators' descriptions, the working draft of their bill differs from the
Bush proposal in a few key ways. It does not permit convictions based on
evidence that the accused could not see, for instance.
that any system used on foreign detainees must be the same as U.S.
officials would want to see for American personnel captured overseas.
"Whatever we do
… could come back to haunt us," Graham said.
administration's proposed system would create more than two dozen offenses,
from murder and pillaging to lesser crimes such as conspiracy. A military
officer would preside over the commission, which would include at least
five members. The rules would require a two-thirds majority to convict.
Defendants could face the death penalty.
The plan was
criticized Wednesday by civilian defense lawyers and other legal experts.
is a radical scheme, designed to resurrect a system of martial law that
literally America has never seen," said Neal K. Katyal, a professor at
Georgetown Law Center in Washington, who argued the Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld
case before the Supreme Court that resulted in the ruling against the
want their sons or daughters tried under these kinds of circumstances?"
Court said the system invalidated in its June ruling fell short of meeting
U.S. law and international standards. The court also held that U.S.
personnel could be prosecuted if they subjected prisoners to inhumane or
degrading treatment in violation of the Geneva Convention. Bush's
legislation seeks to limit the exposure of U.S. personnel to such
prosecutions by foreign courts.
7 September 2006
© 2006 Bulatlat
Alipato Media Center
Permission is granted to reprint or redistribute this article, provided
its author/s and Bulatlat are properly credited and notified.