Rethinking Embattled Tactics in Terror War
Courts, Hill and Allies Press Administration

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 11, 2006; A01

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."

In the international arena, the administration and the CIA are reexamining procedures for capturing, transporting and detaining terrorism suspects.

Pierre-Richard Prosper, formerly the State Department official charged with negotiating the return of Guantanamo Bay prisoners to their country of origin, said most countries agree with the goals of counterterrorism.

"But once you started actual implementation, you see the fractures taking place," he said. "I think what has to happen is the world will really need to take a look at these issues. This is a new game; what are the new rules going to be?"

Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, confirmed on Sunday that he had criticized Bush in a May 18 letter for not briefing Congress on what he called a significant intelligence program, and said the failure to do so was a violation of law and an affront to him.

"I wanted to reinforce to the president and to the executive branch and the intelligence community how important . . . that they keep the legislative branch informed of what they are doing," Hoekstra said on "Fox News Sunday." "It is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing."

Hoekstra said he and others in Congress were subsequently briefed by the administration on the program, but he declined to describe the program.

Beyond Congress, the administration faces a barrage of legal challenges by privacy and civil rights groups such as the one that led to the Supreme Court decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in Detroit, home to one of the largest Arab populations outside the Middle East, on behalf of scholars, lawyers, journalists and nonprofit groups challenging the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program. It alleges that the program hindered communications by phone and e-mail between the plaintiffs and people in the Middle East. The Center for Constitutional Rights has a parallel case pending before a federal judge in New York.

The Justice Department so far has persuaded many judges to dismiss such suits, along with those challenging the CIA's "rendition" program, under the "state secret privilege," which argues that allowing a case to proceed would damage national security.

Yesterday, the Justice Department made such a case before U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor in Detroit. The ACLU, on behalf of the plaintiffs, renewed its call for a court ruling that would force the government to suspend its program of intercepting without a court order the international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens.

Staff writer Jonathan Weisman and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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