Congress Will Consider Legalizing Tribunals Senate Republicans say they are willing to work with the White House to give President Bush the authority to hold military tribunals for detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Supreme Court blocked the Bush administration's plans for the tribunals.
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Congress Will Consider Legalizing Tribunals

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Congress Will Consider Legalizing Tribunals

Congress Will Consider Legalizing Tribunals

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The next move is up to Congress when it comes to trying detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay. Yesterday the Supreme Court blocked the Bush administration's plans to try them in military tribunals. In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the Constitution gives Congress the power to make rules concerning captured prisoners, not the president. In the Senate, Republicans say they're willing to work with the White House to give the president that authority.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports from the Capitol.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Congress, with a few exceptions, has sat on the sidelines and let the White House have its way in conducting the war on terror, but with the Supreme Court's rebuke of the administration's conduct yesterday lawmakers now seem eager to assert themselves. Hearings are being planned for when Congress returns from its July 4th recess next month. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, hopes for a meeting of the minds when lawmakers get back to Washington.

Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas): Well, I think that's a positive thing that the Court indicated that the Congress needs to step up statutorily and I think we will. I don't think it's going to be organized by committee jurisdiction so much as it is, let's put our minds together and see if we can come up with something that would be certain to meet the Court approval and certainly meet our national security concerns.

NAYLOR: Some legislation has already been drafted. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, has been one of the few in the GOP willing to question the legal status of administration programs, including domestic wiretapping and now the treatment of detainees. Specter introduced a bill yesterday that calls for military commissions and field tribunals, basically giving Congress's blessing to what the administration has been doing.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): Our legislation provides that there would be a classification tribunal so that there would be a review of their status to make a determination on a periodic basis if they continue to be a threat to the United States.

NAYLOR: Congress could also turn over the cases of the detainees to U.S. civilian courts, though that option seems to have little support. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist issued a written statement yesterday saying that in order to keep Americans safe in the war on terror, “I believe we should try terrorists only before military commissions.”

Another approach would be to set up a system modeled on the military courts. That's the process favored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who serves as a military lawyer in the Air Force Reserve. Graham says such a system should be based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): I think we should use the UCMJ as your source document. The closer it is to the UCMJ, the better we'll be because it's a known procedure. And if it's good enough for our own troops, it ought to be good enough for enemy combatants.

NAYLOR: Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committee are likely to take lead roles in coming up with a response to the court's ruling. Both have already scheduled hearings. Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the senior Democrat on the Senate panel, hopes this could be that rare issue on which the parties put aside partisanship.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): The key role that's going to be played here will be played by the military Judge Advocate General. The lawyers. The military lawyers who will understand that you've got to have rules of the road here and that they need to be adopted by the Congress and not unilaterally announced by the president.

NAYLOR: But as the November mid-term elections draw nearer, it's hard to imagine politics won't be a factor in the upcoming debate. White House Counselor Dan Bartlett made that clear yesterday, saying any lawmaker who objected to legislation backed by the president could be portrayed as supporting the release of dangerous terrorists.

For now, at least, there is unity on one thing, Congress does in fact have a role to play in setting policy for the treatment of military detainees and it seems eager at last to play it.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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