The U.S. Senate Thursday is expected to approve legislation establishing rules for the treatment and trial of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed its own version of the measure.
The bill is a compromise forged between Senate Republicans and the White House.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, who helped negotiate the agreement, urged his colleagues to swiftly approve it. "It will allow terrorists to be brought to justice in accordance with the founding principles and values that have made our nation the greatest democracy in the world. This bill will also provide the clarity needed to allow our essential intelligence activities to go forward, I repeat go forward, under the law. This bill is consistent with the Geneva Conventions which have helped protect our own forces in conflicts over the past 57 years," he said.
But many Senate Democrats see it differently. They argue that provisions in the measure would allow for unfair trials and abusive interrogations at the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
They say the measure could become the target of court challenges because it removes the right of detainees to file legal challenges to their imprisonment.
"If we are simply holding 455 people (at Guantanamo Bay) with no charges indefinitely, until this war on terrorism which has no definable end to it, comes to an end, that is not consistent with the principles of justice," said Senator Dick Durbin is an Illinois Democrat.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and a former military lawyer who helped forge the compromise with the White House, dismissed Durbin's concerns. "No enemy prisoner should have access to federal courts, a non-citizen enemy combatant terrorist, to bring a lawsuit against those fighting on our behalf," he said.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, has sponsored an amendment to allow such suspects the right to legally challenge their detention.
The overall bill was drafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that struck down the Bush administration's military tribunal system, saying it violated U.S. and international laws.
President Bush urged lawmakers to send him the measure before they adjourn at the end of the week to campaign for the November elections.
But it appears Congress will not be able to send the President another terrorism-related bill by week's end.
Congressional aides say differences between House and Senate versions of legislation relating to the administration's warrantless wiretapping program are too great to bridge this week and will have to wait until after the election.