Gonzales Pushes Lenient Hearsay Rules
Thursday, August 3, 2006; 12:00 PM
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration wants a new system for trying terror suspects to let prosecutors withhold classified evidence from the accused, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Wednesday, holding to a hard line on detainee policy despite concerns by senators and military lawyers.
"We must not share with captured terrorists the highly sensitive intelligence that may be relevant to military commission proceedings," Gonzales told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Gonzales said detainee legislation also should permit hearsay and coerced testimony, if deemed "reliable" by a judge. These approaches are not permitted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ, which is used for military courts-martial.
The administration's plans have sounded alarms in the military's legal corps and on Capitol Hill, who say the UCMJ is a tried-and-true body of law that is well-regarded around the world.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning, prior to Gonzales' remarks, the services' judge advocates general _ their top uniformed legal officers _ said they would not support passing a law that would bar defendants from accessing evidence, which is considered a fundamental right in civilian and military courts.
GOP senators who have been negotiating a final legislative proposal with the administration said they, too, were unconvinced the administration's position was sound.
"We haven't reached a final decision on how we're going to handle it," but it is important to have "this statute be able to survive any subsequent federal court review process," said Sen. John W. Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said he opposes withholding evidence because of the dangerous precedent it sets.
"If the only way we can try this terrorist is to disclose classified information, and we can't share it with the accused, I would argue, don't do the trial. Just keep them. Because it could come back to haunt us," said Graham, R-S.C.
Gonzales played down the effect of denying classified evidence to terror suspects, telling lawmakers, "I think it would be an extraordinary case where classified information would be used and would not be provided to the accused."
Gonzales' testimony provided the latest details on how the administration would retool the tribunals that President Bush established in 2001 for trying terrorism detainees, a system that the Supreme Court rejected in June. The Supreme Court ruled the tribunal system was not authorized by Congress and violated international treaty obligations on detainee treatment.
Bush officials have yet to unveil their legislative proposal, which is still being examined by military lawyers.