U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey is calling on Congress to step in and write new rules for civilian court hearings of Guantanamo detainees. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group in Washington, Mukasey said Congress should tell federal courts they cannot bring terrorist suspects to the United States for hearings or order that they be released in the United States. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Attorney General Mukasey said new rules for judicial procedures are needed since the Supreme Court ruled last month that the Guantanamo detainees have the constitutional right, known as "habeas corpus," to challenge their detention in U.S. federal court. He said the high court's ruling leaves a number of critical issues unanswered, and called on Congress to intervene.
"So today I am urging Congress to act to resolve the difficult questions left open by the Supreme Court. I am urging Congress to pass legislation to ensure that the proceedings mandated by the Supreme Court are conducted in a responsible and prompt way, and as the court itself urged, in a practical way," he said.
Mukasey said classified evidence against the terrorist suspects must be handled carefully, so the hearings will not turn into a "smorgasbord" of information for enemies of the United States. And he outlined another top priority for Congress. "First and foremost, Congress should make clear that our federal court may not order the government to bring enemy combatants into the United States. There are more than 200 detainees remaining in Guantanamo Bay, and many of them pose an extraordinary threat to Americans," he said.
A group representing many of the Guantanamo detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, was quick to reject Mukasey's proposal, calling it "a shocking attempt to drag the country into years of further legal challenges and delays." It said the Supreme Court has spoken, and there is no need for Congress to act.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, scolded Mukasey for not consulting the judicial committee before the speech, saying his call Monday for Congress to create new rules is the first he has heard from the Bush administration on the matter. Senator Leahy said he has great confidence in the U.S. justice system's ability to handle these issues, and that Congress must not rush to pass another piece of what he termed "ill conceived legislation" on detainees. He said it is an issue best left for the next Congress and a new President.
Since this is an election year, Congress may be reluctant to wade into the sensitive territory of legal rights for Guantanamo detainees. The prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba has become a focal point of international criticism of the detentions themselves and U.S. interrogation procedures.