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Bush faces Republican revolt over terror trials
· Worries over treatment of Guantánamo detainees
· Defendants to be barred from seeing evidence

Suzanne Goldenberg / London Guardian | September 9 2006

President George Bush yesterday faced growing opposition from his fellow Republicans to a pillar of his war on terror: his plans to prosecute detainees at Guantánamo at military commissions.

Mr Bush had hoped to use the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on Monday to shift the focus of November's congressional elections away from the war on Iraq to national security. But the strategy misfired with key Republicans balking at a White House proposal for legislation on military tribunals that would deny Guantánamo detainees the right to see classified evidence against them.

"It would be unacceptable legally in my opinion to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never had heard the evidence against them," Lindsey Graham, a former military judge and a Republican senator from South Carolina who is a member of the armed services committee, told the New York Times yesterday. "Trust us, you're guilty, we're going to execute you, but we can't tell you why'? That's not going to pass muster."
Military law experts have also lined up against the proposal. "I am not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognised by civilised people where an individual can be tried and convicted without seeing the evidence against him," Brigadier General James Walker, the staff judge advocate to the marine corps commandant, told the armed services committee.

Mr Graham and other high-profile Republicans such as Senator John McCain of Arizona have produced their own draft legislation on military tribunals which would guarantee suspects the right to see all evidence against them, and bar evidence obtained through torture.

Under the White House plan the fate of Guantánamo defendants would be decided by a jury of five military officers - 12 if the charges carry the death penalty. As well as the use of classified evidence off limits to the defendant, the prosecution could use hearsay and evidence obtained through coercion. "It would be up to the judge to determine, based on an argument by the accused, whether he believed something was torture and needed to be prohibited," John Bellinger, the state department legal adviser, said.

The president is to spend the weekend visiting the crash sites at the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania before a primetime television address on Monday that caps a series of speeches this week defending the administration's stewardship of the war on al-Qaida in the wake of September 11. However, the president's strategy of using the anniversary to advance his agenda sparked a second rebellion from Republicans in Congress.

Legislation authorising the National Security Agency wiretaps was also stalled yesterday after three Republican members of the Senate judiciary committee joined Democrats in demanding tighter controls on the administration's powers to order surveillance of phone calls and email of US citizens.

The supreme court ruled last June that the administration's military commissions failed to meet US and international standards of fairness, and were not authorised by US law. And a judge in Detroit ruled last month Mr Bush's order to the NSA to conduct wiretaps without court oversight violated the US constitution.

 

 

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