Friday, September 29, 2006
Senate Approves Detainee Bill Backed by Bush
Constitutional Challenges Predicted
By Charles Babington and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 29, 2006; Page A01
Congress approved landmark changes to the nation's system of interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects last night, preparing the ground for possible military trials for key al-Qaeda members under rules that critics say will draw stiff constitutional challenges.
The Senate joined the House in embracing President Bush's view that the battle against terrorism justifies the imposition of extraordinary limits on defendants' traditional rights in the courtroom. They include restrictions on a suspect's ability to challenge his detention, examine all evidence against him, and bar testimony allegedly acquired through coercion of witnesses.
Bush acknowledged the existence of secret CIA prisons abroad Sept. 6, 2006, as he called for the authority to try prisoners by military commissions.
• Analysis: President Shifts Argument
• Pentagon War Policy: New Interrogation Rules
CIA'S SECRET PRISONS
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest reported on Nov. 2 that the CIA operates a network of secret prisons where it holds terror suspects. Priest was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on April 17 for her beat reporting on the CIA and the War on Terror.
• From the Office of the Director of National Intelligence: Summary of the High Value Terrorist Detainee Program (pdf)
View the largest list of names made public thus far, comprising men whose identities have appeared in media reports, on Arabic Web sites and in legal documents.
President Bush delivers remarks on terrorism, Sept. 6, 2006.
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The Senate's 65 to 34 vote marked a victory for Bush and fellow Republicans a month before the Nov. 7 elections as their party tries to make anti-terrorism a signature campaign issue. Underscoring that strategy, the House last night voted 232 to 191 to authorize Bush's warrantless wiretapping program, with GOP leaders hoping to add it to their list of accomplishments even though it has no chance of Senate passage before this weekend's scheduled adjournment. On the final wiretapping vote, 18 Democrats joined 214 Republicans to win passage. Thirteen Republicans, 177 Democrats and one independent voted nay.
Democrats resisted both measures and nearly amended the detainee bill to allow foreigners designated as enemy combatants to challenge their captivity by filing habeas corpus appeals with the federal courts. But Republicans held fast, gambling that Democrats will fail in their bid to convince voters that the GOP is sacrificing the nation's traditions of justice and fairness in the name of battling terrorists and winning elections.
"As our troops risk their lives to fight terrorism, this bill will ensure they are prepared to defeat today's enemies and address tomorrow's threats," Bush said after the vote.
With control of both houses possibly at stake this fall, yesterday's debates were often impassioned and deeply partisan. House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called Democrats "dangerous." Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the nation is losing its "moral compass."
The Senate approved the detainee legislation after Bush's allies narrowly fended off five amendments. The vote on final passage drew support from 53 Republicans and 12 Democrats, while 32 Democrats, one independent and one Republican -- Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) -- voted nay.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) voted for the bill after telling reporters earlier that he would oppose it because it is "patently unconstitutional on its face." He cited its denial of the habeas corpus right to military detainees. In an interview last night, Specter said he decided to back the bill because it has several good items, "and the court will clean it up" by striking the habeas corpus provisions.