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Bush signs law authorizing harsh interrogation

BBC | October 17, 2006

President George W Bush has signed into law a bill that sets standards for the interrogation and prosecution of terror suspects held by the US.

This follows a Supreme Court ruling in June that military tribunals set up to prosecute detainees at Guantanamo Bay violated US and international law.

The new law protects defendants from blatant abuse but still restricts their right to challenge their detention.

A US spokesman said preparations would now begin to try Guantanamo suspects.

At a ceremony in Washington, Mr Bush said it was a rare occasion when a president signed a law that he knew would save American lives.

"It is one of the most important pieces of legislations in the war on terror," he said.

He said the Central Intelligence Agency's programme of questioning terror suspects had proved invaluable, and the new law would reinforce this.

The Military Commissions Act, he said, would allow the CIA "to continue to question terrorists and save lives", adding that "it complies with the spirit and letter of the US's international obligations".

The law also set out a system of special tribunals, which would give defendants a fair trial, Mr Bush said.

Speaking earlier, White House spokesman Tony Snow said the trials would not happen "overnight" because it was important "to make sure that the defence is going to be able to do its job properly and the prosecution the same".

He predicted it would take a month or two to "get things moving towards a trial phase" for some of those held at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Interrogation techniques

The legislation was passed by both houses of Congress in September after intense debate.

The bill forbids treatment of detainees that would constitute war crimes - such as torture, rape and biological experiments - but gives the president the authority to decide which other techniques interrogators can use.

The law does not require that detainees be granted legal representation. It also bars non-US citizens from filing habeas corpus petitions challenging their detentions in federal court.

Civil liberties groups say the law does still not guarantee detainees' rights, and legal challenges are to be expected.

The US defence department has laid charges against 10 detainees and is preparing to charge about 65 more.

There are about 450 detainees at Guantanamo, according to the Bush administration.


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