White House has draft bill on terror trials: report


Wed Jul 26, 2006 12:22 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House has drafted legislation covering trials of terror detainees that would allow hearsay evidence and let defendants be excluded from trials to protect national security, The New York Times reported in Wednesday's edition.

The Times said a draft of the proposal was being circulated within the administration and among military lawyers at the Pentagon. The present draft preserves the idea of using military commissions to prosecute terror suspects and makes only modest changes in their procedural rules, including some expanded protections for defendants.

President George W. Bush wants to push a bill through Congress this fall to allow trials of suspects held at the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Supreme Court said the military commissions Bush set up were not in accord with U.S. or international laws.

The plan could run into trouble in Congress where some lawmakers have said they want to base the new rules on the military code of justice that would significantly expand detainee's rights.

The Times said the draft measure notes that military court-martial procedures are "not practicable in trying enemy combatants" because doing so would "require the government to share classified information" and exclude "hearsay evidence determined to be ... reliable."

Rather than requiring a speedy trial for enemy combatants, the draft says they "may be tried and punished at any time without limitations," the Times said.

The draft legislation would bar "statements obtained by the use of torture" for use as evidence, but evidence obtained in interrogations where coercion was used would be admissible unless found "unreliable" by a military judge. To prevent them hearing classified evidence, the Times said the draft would allow defendants to be barred from trials, but would require them be given a summary of the information.

The report cited deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino as saying the administration was "working to strike a balance of a fair system of justice that deals with terrorists who don't recognize the rules of war."

The copy of the draft legislation provided to the Times was labeled "for discussion purposes only, deliberative draft, close hold," the report said, and the official who shared it did so on condition of anonymity.

The Times cited Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and former military lawyer who has seen the draft measure as calling it "a good start" but adding, "I have some concerns." He declined to be specific, saying he wanted to withhold judgment until hearing the views of military lawyers.