Senator: Bar Terror Suspects From Court

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 10, 2005; 12:47 AM

WASHINGTON -- A Senate Republican wants to bar suspected foreign terrorists held at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from challenging their detentions in U.S. courts, a proposal that is drawing protest from human rights groups.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he also faces some resistance from Senate colleagues and the White House as he considers whether to try attaching his proposal to a defense bill the Senate is debating this week. Senators could vote on the proposal as early as Thursday.

"What I object to is criminalizing the war. Enemy combatants, POWs have never had access to federal court before," said Graham, a 20-year Air Force lawyer.

The White House, while not necessarily opposed in principle to the proposal, has not yet signed off on it.

Graham's effort comes as the GOP-led Senate prepared to rebuff the White House a second time by approving another defense bill that would ban cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of foreign prisoners in U.S. custody. The measure also would require U.S. troops to follow interrogation procedures in the Army Field Manual.

The administration has threatened to veto any bills containing the provisions. Top House Republicans have indicated their opposition, too.

The proposals sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are in Senate versions of a $445 billion military spending bill that was passed last month, and a defense policy bill that is before the Senate. The House bills do not include the provisions.

McCain said Wednesday he is worried that attempts to kill the provisions could succeed.

Under a scenario that McCain said was possible, House-Senate negotiators would strip the provisions from the must-pass spending bill and then never complete the other bill that includes the detainee language, the defense policy bill.

"That's what I am told the strategy is," McCain said, declining to say who told him that. "I hope that it's not true. I hope that they won't do that."

McCain said he does not yet support Graham's detainee proposal. "We need to go slow on this a little bit," McCain said.

Graham said he accelerated his work on the proposal after Monday's Supreme Court decision to review a constitutional challenge to the administration's military trials for foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo.

Initially, the administration refused to let the 500 or so prisoners held at the U.S. naval base to challenge their imprisonment by filing petitions known as habeas corpus. The Supreme Court in 2004 said U.S. courts were open to filings from the detainees. Many of them were captured in Afghanistan and have been held at the jail for several years without being charged.

Lawsuits have piled up since.

Graham said the administration wants to deal with the issues instead of having Congress involved.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups oppose the proposal. It "will only serve to reinforce the growing perception that the United States has become an enemy of human rights," the Center For Constitutional Rights said.

© 2005 The Associated Press