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Democrats likely to resurrect detainee legislation

Democrats likely to resurrect detainee legislation

Senate Democrats plan to use their newfound power to revisit one of the most contentious U.S. national security matters of 2006: Deciding what legal rights must be protected for detainees held in the fight against terrorism.
In September, Congress passed a bill that gave President George W. Bush wide latitude in interrogating and detaining captured enemy combatants. The legislation, backed by the White House, prompted more than three months of debate _ exposing Republican fissures and prompting angry rebukes by Democrats of the administration's interrogation policies.
With the Nov. 7 elections handing control to the Democrats, the issue is far from settled. A group of Senate Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Arlen Specter, want to resurrect the bill to fix at least one provision they say threatens the nation's credibility on human rights issues.
As Democrats plan to revisit detainees' rights, Saddam Hussein's chief lawyer is trying to cast doubt on the U.S. handling of the ousted leader. Saddam is expected to remain in a U.S. military prison until he is handed over to Iraqi authorities on the day of his execution. Saddam's lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said Thursday that international law should protect Hussein from being handed over to his enemies.
Human rights groups contacted on Thursday said that while they have expressed concerns about the Iraqi legal system, this latest claim has not been one of them.
The proposed revisions to the terrorism detainee bill could surface in the new Congress early in the year, staffers say _ with new sympathetic ears in leadership and a slim Democratic majority in Congress.
Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat who will take control of the Senate as majority leader next year, "would support attempts to revisit some of the most extreme elements of the bill" including language stripping detainees of habeas corpus rights, although no immediate action is planned, said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.
Under the law, the president can convene military commissions to prosecute terror suspects so long as he follows certain guidelines, such as granting defendants legal counsel and access to evidence used against them. The bill also for the first time provides specific definitions of abusive treatment of prisoners, prohibiting some of the worst abuses like mutilation and rape but granting the president leeway to decide which specific interrogation techniques are permissible.
While the White House initially backed a harder line that would have left the president's interrogation policies virtually unchecked, Sens. John Warner, a Republican, Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and John McCain, a Republican, insisted on language they said would protect U.S. international commitments on prisoner abuse.
But Specter, a Republican, and Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, say a disturbing provision left in the bill specifically prohibits a detainee from protesting his detention in court. This provision barring habeas corpus petitions means that only detainees selected for trial by the military are able to confront charges against them, leaving a vast majority of the estimated 14,000 military detainees in custody without a chance to plead their case.
"I think the courts are going to declare that part of the legislation unconstitutional," Specter said in an interview this month.
Leahy and other Democrats, led by Sen. Christopher Dodd have another proposal that would go much further by eliminating other provisions of the White House bill. Among other things, Dodd's legislation would specifically bar coerced statements as testimony and limit the president's authority in interpreting international standards for prisoner treatment.
In contrast, the bill signed by Bush in October allows coerced evidence under narrow circumstances and leaves it up to the president to implement Geneva Convention standards.
Dodd and other Democrats say such protections should be afforded to terror suspects because the U.S. would want other nations to apply similar rights to troops captured in war.


Updated : 2020-12-02 08:30 GMT+08:00