NPR logo Bush Offers Congress Plan on Terrorism Tribunals


Bush Offers Congress Plan on Terrorism Tribunals

President Bush addresses a key issue -- how to deal with terrorism suspects -- during a speech from the East Room of the White House. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Bush addresses a key issue -- how to deal with terrorism suspects -- during a speech from the East Room of the White House.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Guantanamo by the Numbers

Since 2002, the United States military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been holding prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terrorism.


There are 459 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo; 315 have either been transferred to the custody of their home governments or released.


Most detainees — held for more than four years, most held without charge — are from Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan.


Ten have been charged, but their trials are on hold while Congress decides what rules they should be tried under.


An additional 120 detainees have been determined either not to be enemy combatants or to no longer be threats to the United States and its allies. However, they are still being held at Guantanamo because the United States fears they may be persecuted upon their return home; the United States can't get guarantee that they won't be released once they're returned home; or their home governments don't want them.


The United States has built one hard-walled prison (unlike the chain-link cells that have been used for about three years), called Camp 5, which holds the "worst of the worst" detainees at Guantanamo. Camp 5, which can hold up to 100 prisoners, is about half full. The military is building another hard-walled prison called, Camp 6, with a capacity of 200 detainees.


The U.S. military is also expanding an existing prison in Afghanistan, called Pol-e-charki. When it is completed in early 2007, scores of Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo will be moved there.


Source: Defense Department


—Jackie Northam

Sept. 11 Suspects in Custody

This image of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was released shortly after his capture in March 2003. President Bush announced that Mohammed is among 14 high-profile terrorism suspects transferred to Guantanamo for trial. U.S. Defense Department hide caption

toggle caption
U.S. Defense Department

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressing ahead in the face of an adverse Supreme Court ruling, President Bush is urging Congress to put in place a plan that will permit military tribunals to hear the cases of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Bush's original plan for the type of military trials used in the aftermath of World War II was struck down in June by the Supreme Court, which said the tribunals would violate U.S. and international law.

Aides said legislation being introduced on Bush's behalf Wednesday on Capitol Hill insists on provisions covering military tribunals that would permit evidence to be withheld from a defendant if necessary to protect classified information.

As part of the package, Bush asked Congress to shield from prosecution or lawsuits federal personnel who handle terrorism suspects.

"Time is of the essence," the president said during a wide-ranging speech from the East Room of the White House. "Passing this legislation ought to be the top priority."

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have drafted a rival proposal. It would guarantee certain legal rights to defendants, including access to all evidence used against them.

"I think it's important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used," said McCain, R-Ariz.

Administration officials also have said that allowing coerced testimony in some cases may be necessary, while McCain said the committee bill would ban it entirely.

"We have some differences that we are in discussion about," said McCain, who had not seen the White House bill in writing. "I believe we can work this out."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is expected to side with the administration. He planned to introduce Wednesday the White House legislative proposal on the floor and refer it to the Armed Services Committee for review.

Senate Democrats so far are in agreement with Warner and McCain, setting up a potential showdown on the floor this month just before members leave for midterm elections.

Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon put out a new Army field manual that spells out appropriate conduct on issues including prisoner interrogation. The manual applies to all the armed services, but not the CIA.

The United States began using the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in eastern Cuba in January 2002 to hold people suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. About 455 detainees remain there, including 115 considered eligible for transfer or release.

The president said he eventually wants to close Guantanamo as critics and allies around the world have urged.