July 26, 2006

White House has draft bill on terror trials: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House has drafted
legislation covering trials of terror detainees that would
allow hearsay evidence and let defendants be excluded from
trials to protect national security, The New York Times
reported in Wednesday's edition.

The Times said a draft of the proposal was being circulated
within the administration and among military lawyers at the
Pentagon. The present draft preserves the idea of using
military commissions to prosecute terror suspects and makes
only modest changes in their procedural rules, including some
expanded protections for defendants.

President George W. Bush wants to push a bill through
Congress this fall to allow trials of suspects held at the U.S.
naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Supreme Court
said the military commissions Bush set up were not in accord
with U.S. or international laws.

The plan could run into trouble in Congress where some
lawmakers have said they want to base the new rules on the
military code of justice that would significantly expand
detainee's rights.

The Times said the draft measure notes that military
court-martial procedures are "not practicable in trying enemy
combatants" because doing so would "require the government to
share classified information" and exclude "hearsay evidence
determined to be ... reliable."

Rather than requiring a speedy trial for enemy combatants,
the draft says they "may be tried and punished at any time
without limitations," the Times said.

The draft legislation would bar "statements obtained by the
use of torture" for use as evidence, but evidence obtained in
interrogations where coercion was used would be admissible
unless found "unreliable" by a military judge. To prevent them
hearing classified evidence, the Times said the draft would
allow defendants to be barred from trials, but would require
them be given a summary of the information.

The report cited deputy White House press secretary Dana
Perino as saying the administration was "working to strike a
balance of a fair system of justice that deals with terrorists
who don't recognize the rules of war."

The copy of the draft legislation provided to the Times was
labeled "for discussion purposes only, deliberative draft,
close hold," the report said, and the official who shared it
did so on condition of anonymity.

The Times cited Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina
Republican and former military lawyer who has seen the draft
measure as calling it "a good start" but adding, "I have some
concerns." He declined to be specific, saying he wanted to
withhold judgment until hearing the views of military lawyers.