Bush Signs Bill on Terror Prosecution
Wednesday, October 18, 2006; 6:40 AM
WASHINGTON -- Some of the most notorious names in the war on terror are headed toward prosecution after President Bush signed a law Tuesday authorizing military trials of terrorism suspects.
The legislation also eliminates some of the rights defendants are usually guaranteed under U.S. law, and it authorizes continued harsh interrogations of terror suspects.
Imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and awaiting trial are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be 9/11 hijacker, and Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida cells.
"With the bill I'm about to sign, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent people will face justice," Bush said in a White House ceremony.
The Pentagon expects to begin pre-trial motions early next year and to begin the actual trials in the summer.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that trying detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law, so Bush urged Congress to change the law during a speech on Sept. 6 in the White House East Room attended by families of the Sept. 11, 2001, victims. He also insisted that the law authorize CIA agents to use tough _ yet unspecified _ methods to interrogate suspected terrorists.
Six weeks later, after a highly publicized dispute with key Republicans over the terms of the bill, Bush signed the new law "in memory of the victims of September the 11th."
"It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill he knows will save American lives," Bush said. "I have that privilege this morning."
Civil libertarians and leading Democrats decried the law as a violation of American values. The American Civil Liberties Union said it was "one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history." Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin said, "We will look back on this day as a stain on our nation's history."
"It allows the government to seize individuals on American soil and detain them indefinitely with no opportunity to challenge their detention in court," Feingold said. "And the new law would permit an individual to be convicted on the basis of coerced testimony and even allow someone convicted under these rules to be put to death."
The legislation, which sets the rules for court proceedings, applies to those selected by the military for prosecution and leaves mostly unaffected the majority of the 14,000 prisoners in U.S. custody, most of whom are in Iraq. It does apply to 14 suspects who were secretly questioned by the CIA overseas and recently moved to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
The swift implementation of the law is a rare bit of good news for Bush as casualties mount in Iraq in daily violence. Lawmakers are increasingly calling for a change of strategy, and political anxieties are jeopardizing Republican chances of hanging onto control of Congress.