September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Email Text:I was siting watching the PBS news hour and then at the very end of the show
Leher as an aside says President Bush authorized the use of military
tribunals for suspected terrorists. I was simply stunned. After having read
the AP article below I was no longer stunned, but lamenting our loss of


Bush Order: Terror Trials by Military

.c The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush approved the use of a special military
tribunal Tuesday that could put accused terrorists on trial faster and in
greater secrecy than an ordinary criminal court. The United States has not
convened such a tribunal since World War II.

Bush signed an order establishing the government's right to use such a court
but preserving the option of a conventional trial.

``This is a new tool to use against terrorism,'' White House Counsel Albert
Gonzales said.

Bush's order does not require approval from Congress.

Detention and trial of accused terrorists by a military tribunal is
``to protect the United States and its citizens, and for the effective
conduct of military operations and prevention of terrorist attacks,'' the
five-page order said.

The order sets out many of the rules for any military tribunal and the
of anyone held accountable there. A senior Justice Department official,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said only noncitizens would be tried
before the military commission.

``These are extraordinary times and the president wants to have as many
options as possible,'' said Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker.
``This option does not preclude any Department of Justice options that might
also be available.''

In either a military or a civilian court, any suspect would retain rights to
a lawyer and to a trial by jury, the administration said.

Anyone ever held for trial under the order would certainly challenge its
legitimacy, said Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of
Military Justice in Washington, and a lawyer who regularly practices before
military courts.

``There's no recent history in this country of this. It's an extraordinary
step for the president to have taken,'' Fidell said, adding that it moves
country closer to a genuine war footing.

There is precedent for such panels.

President Franklin Roosevelt had suspected World War II saboteurs secretly
tried by military commission, and six were executed. The Supreme Court
the proceeding. An enemy who sneaked onto U.S. soil ``for the purposes of
waging war by destruction of life or property'' was a combatant who could be
tried in a military court, the Supreme Court ruled.

Military tribunals were also used during and after the Civil War.

Gonzales, the president's top lawyer, said a military commission could have
several advantages over a civilian court, including secrecy.

``This is a global war. To have successful prosecutions, we might have to
give up sources and methods,'' about the way the investigation was conducted
if the trial was held in a civilian court, Gonzales said. ``We don't want to
have to do that.''

A military trial could also be held overseas, and Gonzales said there may be
times when prosecutors feel a trial in the United States would be unsafe.

Recent terrorism trials have taken place in U.S. criminal courts, where the
rules require the government to reveal its evidence either in open court or
in filings it must fight to keep secret.

Michael Scardaville, policy analyst for homeland defense at the conservative
Heritage Foundation, said there are legitimate reasons for holding the
in private.

``This isn't Judge Judy, two people fighting over who gets the car after a
divorce. It's about very classified elements of America's national security.

``They can say, `Not only are we not going to let the press in, it's going
be in the middle of a military base.''

Michael Ratner, an international law and war crimes expert at Columbia
University, said the government would lose all credibility with the Muslim
world if it tries terrorists by a military commission.

``I am flabbergasted,'' Ratner said. ``Military courts don't have the same
kind of protections, you don't get the same rights as you do in a federal
court. The judges aren't appointed for life, there is no civilian jury.''

The order is the latest effort by the administration to toughen the nation's
laws against terrorists.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the administration pushed through Congress an
anti-terrorism bill that Bush said was vital but civil liberties groups said
went too far, violating Americans' constitutional rights.

It expands the FBI's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority and
imposes stronger penalties for harboring or financing terrorists. The
also increases the number of crimes considered terrorist acts and toughens
the punishments for committing them.

Under the new order, Bush could establish a military commission in the
by asking the secretary of defense to establish the rules for one.

``This does not identify by name who should be exposed to military
Gonzales said. ``It just provides the framework that, should the president
have findings in the future, he could'' order Secretary of Defense Donald H.
Rumsfeld to establish such a commission.

AP-NY-11-13-01 1957EST

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