Bush to seek Congressional approval for Guantanamo military commissions

[JURIST] The administration will work with Congress within the boundaries set by the Supreme Court in Thursday's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision [JURIST report] to "determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give [Guantanamo Bay detainees] their day in court," President Bush said [transcript] during a meeting later Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. While Bush said he had only received a quick briefing on the decision, he stressed that the White House will take the ruling "very seriously", although he avoided a reporter's question on whether the US will now move towards closing Guantanamo [JURIST news archive].

The Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan [PDF] that President Bush lacked the constitutional authority to establish military tribunals to try enemy combatants and that the structures and procedures of the tribunals violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice [text] and the Geneva Conventions. Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) welcomed the decision [press release] as a "much-needed check on this Administration's unilateral policies that have clearly stretched the bounds of the President's constitutional authority," a position echoed by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the ACLU, and Amnesty International USA [press releases].

Guantanamo Bay camp commander Rear Adm. Harry Harris told Reuters last week [report] that because the Supreme Court in Hamdan was not asked to rule on the legality of the detention center itself, little will change in terms of day-to-day operations there. AP has more.

7:32 PM ET - Defense Department officials said Thursday that "all options are on the table" and that the Pentagon and Justice Department are reviewing the Hamdan decision. Only 14 detainees are directly affected by the decision - the 10 detainees already charged [DOD materials] and four detainees who have not yet been arraigned - but officials said that between 40 and 80 detainees were eventually expected to be charged. In a teleconference [transcript], officials stressed that the Supreme Court's ruling recognizes that the administration can seek statutory authority from Congress to proceed with the military commissions. In a statement [text] Thursday, US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said:

Following the July 4th recess, I will introduce legislation, in consultation with the Administration and my colleagues, that authorizes military commissions and appropriate due process procedures for trials of terrorist combatants. To keep America safe in the War on Terror, I believe we should try terrorists only before military commissions, not in our civilian courts. In response to today’s Supreme Court decision, Congress should work with the President to update our laws on terrorist combatants to respond to the new threats of a post-9/11 world.
The American Forces Press Service has more.

Meanwhile, international human rights organizations have widely praised the decision. A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] said that the ruling "would seem to be a vindication of the need for vigilance in the protection of all human rights." Council of Europe [official website] Secretary General Terry Davis called the decision "a victory for justice in the campaign against error, ineptitude and hypocrisy." In a statement [text], Davis said:
The fallacious choice between security and the rule of law and the deliberate decision of the United States government to betray fundamental human rights and liberties have weakened American defences, alienated its allies and galvanised its enemies in the war against terrorism. The US administration should seize this opportunity to revise its policies, close Guantanamo and give up the practices of extraordinary renditions, ill-treatment of detainees, outsourcing of torture and other measures which do not comply with international standards of human rights.
Aljazeera has more.


 

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