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Bush Offers Congress Plan on Terrorism Tribunals

President Bush addresses a key issue -- how to deal with terrorism suspects -- during a speech from the East Room of the White House.
President Bush addresses a key issue -- how to deal with terrorism suspects -- during a speech from the East Room of the White House.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pressing ahead in the face of an adverse Supreme Court ruling, President Bush is urging Congress to put in place a plan that will permit military tribunals to hear the cases of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay prison.

Bush's original plan for the type of military trials used in the aftermath of World War II was struck down in June by the Supreme Court, which said the tribunals would violate U.S. and international law.

Aides said legislation being introduced on Bush's behalf Wednesday on Capitol Hill insists on provisions covering military tribunals that would permit evidence to be withheld from a defendant if necessary to protect classified information.


As part of the package, Bush asked Congress to shield from prosecution or lawsuits federal personnel who handle terrorism suspects.

"Time is of the essence," the president said during a wide-ranging speech from the East Room of the White House. "Passing this legislation ought to be the top priority."

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have drafted a rival proposal. It would guarantee certain legal rights to defendants, including access to all evidence used against them.

"I think it's important that we stand by 200 years of legal precedents concerning classified information because the defendant should have a right to know what evidence is being used," said McCain, R-Ariz.

Administration officials also have said that allowing coerced testimony in some cases may be necessary, while McCain said the committee bill would ban it entirely.


"We have some differences that we are in discussion about," said McCain, who had not seen the White House bill in writing. "I believe we can work this out."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is expected to side with the administration. He planned to introduce Wednesday the White House legislative proposal on the floor and refer it to the Armed Services Committee for review.

Senate Democrats so far are in agreement with Warner and McCain, setting up a potential showdown on the floor this month just before members leave for midterm elections.

Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon put out a new Army field manual that spells out appropriate conduct on issues including prisoner interrogation. The manual applies to all the armed services, but not the CIA.

The United States began using the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in eastern Cuba in January 2002 to hold people suspected of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. About 455 detainees remain there, including 115 considered eligible for transfer or release.

The president said he eventually wants to close Guantanamo as critics and allies around the world have urged.

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