Bush may turn Gitmo setback into political win

Discussion in 'Politics' started by ScreamingEagle, Jun 30, 2006.

  1. ScreamingEagle

    ScreamingEagle Gold Member

    Jul 5, 2004
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    June 30 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush, rebuked by the Supreme Court for his anti-terror policy, may try to use a major legal setback to win a political victory.

    Bush, responding to yesterday's high court decision that using military commissions to try terrorist suspects is unlawful, said he would ask Congress for legal authority to operate the tribunals.

    Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, pledged to craft legislation addressing the court's ruling that tribunals weren't explicitly authorized by Congress and didn't adequately protect the rights of the accused. Democrats such as Senator Carl Levin of Michigan said they would cooperate.

    Congress will give Bush ``a win because he was in his rights,'' said Senator Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican. ``It could be a victory for him, and certainly the American people will be outraged again by the Supreme Court.''

    The prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where tribunal proceedings are held, has drawn international criticism since it opened in 2002, and Bush has repeatedly said he would like to close it. He said yesterday that the court ruling ``was the way forward'' and would allow the creation of ``a tribunal to hold people to account.''

    Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush has evoked the threat of terrorism to win legislative battles and divide Democrats. In polls, Bush consistently gets high marks for his handling of national security even as a majority of Americans disapprove of his overall performance as president. In a Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll published today, 51 percent of respondents said they approve of the job Bush is doing on preventing terrorism, while 41 percent approve of his handling of the presidency.

    `Strong Case'

    Republican Senator James Talent of Missouri predicted yesterday that the high court's ruling will give Bush a boost. ``I think he's right on it,'' Talent said. Bush has ``made a strong case and people will support it.''

    Still, the 5-3 court ruling is a blow to Bush's conduct of the war on terror, potentially reining in his claims of expanded presidential powers during wartime. If Congress fails to authorize tribunals, the court decision could pave the way for federal or military courts to handle the trials of some suspected terrorists. So far, the government has initiated proceedings against only 10 of the 750 detainees who have been held at Guantanamo.

    Some Democrats left little doubt they would use the court ruling to question the presidential powers Bush invoked to justify several controversial decisions, including the military tribunals, secret domestic eavesdropping, monitoring of financial transactions and what Democrats said was an effort to scale back Congress's authority.

    `Arrogance and Incompetence'

    ``For five years, the Bush-Cheney administration has violated fundamental American values, tarnished our standing in the world and hindered the partnerships we need with our allies,'' said Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a statement. ``This arrogance and incompetence have delayed and weakened the handling of the war on terror, not because of any coherent strategic view it had, but because of its stubborn unilateralism and dangerous theory of unfettered power.''

    Bush ordered the creation of military commissions to try terror suspects shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. He said Congress's authorization to use military force in the war on terror gave the administration the legal justification for the tribunals.

    Explicit Authorization

    The Supreme Court said yesterday that the tribunals were unlawful because Congress hadn't expressly authorized Bush to establish them. One of the justices in the majority, Stephen Breyer, said, ``Nothing prevents the president from returning to Congress to seek the authority he believes necessary.''

    Shortly after the ruling was announced, Republican lawmakers said they would offer legislation that would allow the tribunals to go forward. ``Working together, Congress and the administration can draft a fair, suitable and constitutionally permissible statute,'' Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jon Kyl of Arizona said in a statement.

    The justices also said the tribunals violate the 1949 Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which guarantees such protections as the right to be present at trial. Lawyers for detainees said this may allow all of the 450 inmates currently being held at Guantanamo access to federal courts, which until now have refused to hear their cases.

    U.S. Allies

    The ruling may even give the Bush administration an opportunity to placate some U.S. allies by closing the prison, said Michael Greenberger, a law professor and director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security in Baltimore.

    ``There will be two camps in the Bush administration,'' said Greenberger. ``One will be to try to use Congress to eviscerate what the court has done and one will say, `Look, Guantanamo is a public relations fiasco, let's use this as an excuse to close this down.'''

    Douglas Kmiec, a former Justice Department official under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that while the decision gives Bush ``another international black eye,'' the president's political team ``will tell him that the American people are troubled by this opinion.''

    Bush ``stepped up to the plate and did his duty and the court has now complicated it. Now it's time for Congress to resolve that complication,'' said Kmiec, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, California. ``If they fail to do so, they'll be in default and they'll be held politically accountable for it.''

    Geneva Conventions

    Congress's task in seeking to authorize the tribunals may be complicated by the court's conclusions on the Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. has signed. Congress can't override U.S. treaty obligations, and lawmakers would have to square any new law with the court's ruling that because of the Geneva accords the tribunals may have to provide the accused the same rights they would receive under a court martial.

    The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on the appropriate procedures for military commissions ``in preparation for the consideration in September of such legislation as may be required,'' the panel's Republican chairman, John Warner of Virginia, and its top Democrat, Levin, said in a statement.

    Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, introduced a measure to set up military tribunals that he says would meet procedural requirements mandated by the Supreme Court. Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, scheduled a July 11 hearing to consider the legislation.

    Indefinite detention ``has caused considerable angst,'' Specter said in a Senate floor speech yesterday. Still, ``we are in a war fighting terrorists'' and ``there are continuing dangers,'' he said. ``Until somebody has a better idea, they are going to be detained.''


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