Bush and Senate Close to Deal On Warrantless Eavesdropping
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WASHINGTON — The Bush administration has signaled it will soon propose legislation that expands legal protection for suspected terrorists to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, a key Senate committee chairman said.
Senator Warner, a Republican of Virginia, said President Bush will suggest revising the military tribunals used to prosecute the suspects after he returns next week from the G-8 summit in Russia. Mr.Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the administration doesn’t necessarily endorse the views of two Justice and Defense Department officials who testified this week that Congress should simply ratify the existing tribunals that were invalidated by the Supreme Court.
“I do not believe we have received the last word as to how this administration would like to see this legislation proceed,” Mr. Warner said. He noted that no member of a panel of military legal officials who testified yesterday before his panel “favors rubber- stamping” the military commissions.
The administration has sent somewhat mixed signals on its reaction to last month’s high court ruling.
The White House said the decision means terror suspects are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, rescinding previous assertions that members of Al Qaeda aren’t covered by the treaty. At the same time, the officials who testified before Congress this week said the lawmakers should merely approve the system that Mr. Bush created after the September 11, 2001, attacks without altering it.
Attorney General Gonzales told reporters at the Justice Department yesterday that Mr. Bush wants “a process where we can bring these killers to justice and a process where Americans can continue to be safe.” He said the administration will work with Congress to decide what process for dealing with the terrorists is appropriate.
America is holding about 450 detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and another 550 in Afghanistan.
Republican lawmakers attending yesterday’s Armed Services Committee hearing on the tribunal issue said the Uniformed Code of Military Justice will be the administration’s basis for revising the tribunals.
Mr. Warner said that National Security Adviser Hadley acknowledged at a meeting with him and other lawmakers that there are “some honest differences or divisions” in the administration yet to be resolved. The administration is due to state its views “in a formal manner” after the three-day G-8 summit of eight nations in St. Petersburg, Russia, that concludes July 17, Mr. Warner said.
Senator McCain, who attended the meeting with Mr. Hadley, said the national security adviser made clear that the Uniform Code of Military Justice would be the basis for setting procedures for the military tribunals.
Mr. McCain, a Republican of Arizona, quoted Mr. Hadley as saying, “There will be changes from the standard rubric, but that’s what the Supreme Court told us to do.”
The witnesses at yesterday’s Armed Services Committee hearing — military legal officials called judge advocates general — testified that the tribunals should be based on the militaryjustice code or a blend of that law and the tribunals Bush created after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
“What we’re looking for here is not a document that starts from the Uniform Code of Military Justice or that is firmly founded there, or on the commissions as they exist today,”the Army’s judge advocate general, General Scott Black, said. There should be “a blend thereof.”
He said Congress can comply with the Supreme Court ruling by allowing the accused to attend the tribunals, see the evidence against him and be judged by an independent presiding officer.
“I think the existing procedures are wanting,” added Rear Admiral James McPherson, the Navy’s judge advocate general.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice “could provide a good starting point,” said Major General Jack Rives, the Air Force’s judge advocate general.”
Mr. Warner said he hopes his committee will produce a bipartisan plan by September so that the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, can propose legislation that also takes into account the views of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. He said “it is absolutely imperative” that legislation be enacted this year.
The procedures for trying suspected terrorists “need to preserve our country’s ability to protect our intelligence sources from discovery by the enemy,” Mr. Warner said.
Senator Cornyn, a Republican of Texas, questioned whether adapting the commissions to the Geneva Conventions would be “hamstringing our ability to get intelligence”from the suspected terrorists.
“These are difficult issues. I don’t have ready answers for you,” General Black said.