GOP Senators Push for Military Tribunals

The Supreme Court's rebuff of the Bush administration's Guantanamo military tribunals knocks the issue into the halls of Congress, where GOP leaders are already trying to figure out how to give the president the options he wants for dealing with suspected terror detainees.

That way forward could be long and difficult. Congress will negotiate a highly technical legal road - one fraught with political implications in an election year - under the scrutiny of the international community that has condemned the continued use of the Guantanamo prison.

Congress' options include everything from legalizing the administration's proposed military tribunals to using the U.S. court system or enacting laws that, as Justice John Paul Stevens recommended, use military courts-martial as a template.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would introduce legislation after the July 4 recess that would authorize military commissions and appropriate due process procedures. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., introduced a bill Thursday that did essentially that.

"To keep America safe in the war on terror, I believe we should try terrorists only before military commissions, not in our civilian courts," Frist said.

Human rights groups endorsed proposals to use the courts-martial proceedings, saying it is a fairer proceeding. But military officials say changing the procedures to mimic courts-martial - which are largely similar to U.S. court proceedings - would bring problems.

Katherine Newell Bierman, counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, said courts-martial provide the basic fair trial guarantees that are lacking in the proposed military tribunals.

In the tribunals, she said, the accused have less access to the evidence against them, particularly if it is considered classified. Courts-martial, she said, have rules about how to deal with classified evidence, and they also have more stringent rules about prohibiting evidence that was acquired unlawfully, such as through duress or forced confessions.

Military officials, however, have said that using courts-martial could handcuff their ability to prosecute suspected terrorists because of the need to protect classified information.

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