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Congress starts work on military tribunals

Sat., July 1, 2006

WASHINGTON – Wasting little time, Congress is moving to begin writing legislation to allow the creation of military tribunals, following a Supreme Court decision that repudiated the Bush administration’s use of such tribunals to try Guantanamo detainees without authorization from Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would introduce legislation on the tribunals after the Fourth of July recess, which extends through next week. Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants to work with the White House on crafting a bill that uses legal procedures to punish terrorists.

And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., introduced a bill Thursday night, just hours after the court’s decision, that he said would balance the need for national security with the need for due process.

But not all lawmakers are sure that Congress should write the legislation. Some believe that civilian courts or courts-martial convened according to military law are sufficient to resolve the cases regarding the detainees.

“We should stay as close as possible to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Convention,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the assistant Democratic leader who serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Durbin said it is not clear whether the military tribunals that the administration created would be able to continue.

“That is going to be the challenge, whether we can create a separate tribunal and meet the guidelines the Supreme Court set,” he said.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to hold a series of hearings beginning the week of July 10 to examine what needs to be done and whether legislation is required, said John Ullyot, the committee’s spokesman. He said the committee would hear from lawyers from every branch of the military service.


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