Senate Armed Services Committee chair hesitant on Gitmo tribunals legislation

[JURIST] Sen. John Warner (R-VA) [official website] said Friday that Congress must be cautious about passing an alternative to military commissions [DOD materials; JURIST news archive] at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive], which were struck down [JURIST report] by the US Supreme Court [official website] earlier this week. Warner is chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee [official website] and will lead hearings [press release] on the issue in July. He said Congress must use "careful analysis" to pass legislation that would gain approval by the high court if challenged a second time around. US lawmakers are tasked with balancing the Supreme Court's mandate that detainees must be given some basic rights and the White House's contention that being too lax poses more terrorism threats.

Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the Bush administration for not working with Congress on the issue previously, including Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official websites]. Specter originally offered legislation in 2002 [Specter floor statement] to create a process of military trials for detainees that the White House refused, instead insisting upon using the military commissions it created [Military Order text]. Specter proposed legislation [Baltimore Sun report; draft bill text, DOC] again this week for a type of military commission, which would provide rules for protecting classified information, a three-member decision panel including at least one judge advocate general, and evidence standards which would allow hearsay. President Bush said Thursday that he plans to work with Congress [JURIST report] to establish a system that falls within the high court's mandates.

Sen. Warner said the July hearings will include judge advocates from all branches of the military to decide the right type of trial for suspected terrorists. Courts-martial [Wikipedia backgrounder] seem to fall in the middle between civilian courts, which would offer detainees the most rights, and military commissions, which offer the fewest. If a type of court-martial is approved as the future trial procedure, suspected terrorists will encounter a jury made up of military officers, a streamlined bill of rights, convictions only if three quarters of the jury agree, and less strict rules of evidence than civilian courts. Saturday's New York Times has more.



 

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