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Congress Awaits Bush Plan Expanding Legal Rights of Terror Suspects


A top Republican Senators says the Bush administration is preparing legislation to expand legal protections for foreign terrorism suspects to comply with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner of Virginia, says Bush administration officials have told him they are revising policy on military commissions set up after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States to try terror suspects.

The Supreme Court last month ruled the commissions did not comply with U.S. law and were inconsistent with Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, which ensures the humane treatment of detainees.

At a committee hearing, Warner said the administration would use the Uniformed Code of Military Justice as the basis for revising the military commissions.

"The eyes of the world are on this nation as to how we intend to handle this type of situation, and handle it in a way that a measure of legal rights and human rights are given to detainees," said Mr. Warner.

Warner said President Bush would act on the matter when he returned from the G-8 meeting in Russia.

Military legal officials known as judge advocates general who testified before the committee agree that Congress should base legislation on the military justice code, but with changes to allow interrogations without legal counsel, allow some hearsay testimony and protect classified information.

"Much of what we have in the Uniformed Code of Military Justice and indeed what we can also borrow from other sources, such as the International Criminal Tribunals, and elsewhere can create what I believe can be a perfect blend of rights and responsibilities that would make us literally the envy of not only the people of our country but the people of the world in terms of the judicial process," said Major General Scott Black, the Army's judge advocate general.

Black's testimony contrasted with administration officials who urged Congress earlier this week to pass legislation authorizing President Bush's military commission plan.

Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday also signaled that they want to keep the current system, arguing that the military code would give terrorism suspects too many rights and compromise national security.

Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, echoed the concerns.

"Let me get to the area that concerns me the most, and that is whether, depending on how we approach this, whether we would be unnecessarily hamstringing our ability to get actionable intelligence from detainees because of some of the provisions of Common Article Three," he said.

Major General Black responded it was a difficult issue, and he did not have a ready answer.

The Bush administration has come under international criticism for the indefinite detention and allegations of mistreatment of detainees.

Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former prisoner of war in Vietnam, has long urged a change in U.S. policy on detainees.

"If we somehow carve out exceptions to treaties to which we are signatories, then it will make it very easy for our enemies to do the same in the case of American prisoners," said Mr. McCain.

On a separate issue, Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that the White House will allow a secret court to review the legality of a controversial wiretapping program.

Specter said the administration has agreed to a one-time review by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of the wiretap program conducted by the National Security Agency.

Critics have questioned the legality of the program, which monitors without court warrants phone calls and emails between people in the United States and suspected terrorists overseas.

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