Rethinking Embattled Tactics in Terror War

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Five years after the attacks on the United States, the Bush administration faces the prospect of reworking key elements of its anti-terrorism effort in light of challenges from the courts, Congress and European allies crucial to counterterrorism operations.

The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee and other members of Congress have complained about not being briefed on classified surveillance programs and huge unprecedented databases used to monitor domestic and international phone calls, faxes, e-mails and bank transfers.

European governments and three international bodies are investigating secret prisons run by the CIA, and some countries have pledged not to allow the transport of terrorism suspects through their airports.

Six European allies have demanded that President Bush shut down the prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, citing violations of international law and mistreatment of detainees.

And the Supreme Court recently issued a rebuke of the military commissions created by the administration to try detainees, declaring that they violated the Geneva Conventions and were never properly authorized by Congress.

Accustomed to having its way on matters related to the nation's security, the administration is being forced to respond to criticism that it once brushed aside. The high court ruling rejected the White House's assertion that the president has nearly unlimited executive powers during a time of war, and now executive branch lawyers are reviewing whether other rules adopted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will have to be revised, especially those concerning the Geneva Conventions.

"Part of the consideration internally is how to move forward and if the [court] decision does apply more broadly," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "We're weighing all the issues and taking a very careful look."

She disputed reports of a tug of war within the administration over changing the rules, characterizing the atmosphere instead as an "all hands on deck" debate in an effort "to find a path forward."

Congress, meanwhile, has signaled that it intends to play a major role in shaping the government's response to the court ruling. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin debating new legislation for trying detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Tomorrow and Thursday, the House and Senate Armed Services committees will begin considering their own proposals. Those two committees pushed through legislation late last year to bring prisoner interrogation rules in compliance with U.S. military and international law.

Also today, a subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee will conduct a hearing to raise questions about the administration's strategy in Iraq, which Bush has described as an essential front in the terrorism fight.

"The Bush doctrine of 'trust us' is being questioned by the courts, Congress and the country, which is insisting on changing and strengthening their involvement," said former congressman Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind.), a member of the independent commission that studied the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We are not a parliament, and when we function like a parliament we're unfaithful to the process and our system of government," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who will preside over the Iraq hearing. "We hurt our country and both branches of government. If we had been more forceful . . . Abu Ghraib would have never happened."

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