By Susan CornwellSenate bars bill to restore detainee rightsWed Sep 19, 2007 17:38
Senate bars bill to restore detainee rights
Wed Sep 19, 2007 5:43pm EDT
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate voted on Wednesday against considering a measure to give Guantanamo detainees and other foreigners the right to challenge their detention in the U.S. courts.
The legislation needed 60 votes to be considered by lawmakers in the Senate, narrowly controlled by Democrats; it received only 56, with 43 voting against the effort to roll back a key element of President George W. Bush's war on terrorism.
The measure would have granted foreign terrorism suspects the right of habeas corpus, Latin for "you have the body," which prevents the government from locking people up without review by a court.
Congress last year eliminated this right for non-U.S. citizens labeled "enemy combatants" by the government. The Bush administration said this was necessary to prevent them from being set free and attacking Americans.
The move affected about 340 suspected al Qaeda and Taliban captives held at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. It also affects millions of permanent legal residents of the United States who are not U.S. citizens, said one of the sponsors of the bipartisan measure, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
"Any of these people could be detained forever without the ability to challenge their detention in federal court" under the changes in law Congress made last year, Leahy said on the Senate floor. This was true "even if they (authorities) made a mistake and picked up the wrong person."
"This was a mistake the last Congress and the (Bush) administration made, based on fear," Leahy said.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican opposing the measure, said lawmakers should not allow "some of the most brutal vicious people in the world to bring lawsuits against their own (U.S.) troops" who had picked up the detainees on the battlefield.
Giving habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees would "really intrude into the military's ability to manage this war," Graham said, adding that it was "something that has never been granted to any other prisoner in any other war."
"Our judges don't have the military background to make decisions as to who the enemy is," Graham told the Senate.
Congress eliminated habeas rights as part of the Military Commissions Act, which also created new military tribunals to try the Guantanamo prisoners on war crimes charges.
Congress was led by Republicans when the act was rushed through, shortly before new elections put Democrats in control.
Sen. Arlen Specter, another sponsor of the bill and a Pennsylvania Republican, noted that the right to habeas corpus was a protection against arbitrary arrest enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and dating back to the English Magna Carta of 1215.
Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments from lawyers from Guantanamo prisoners challenging the law to eliminate the habeas right.
© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.
Bush presses Congress to extend domestic spying
Wed Sep 19, 2007 7:48pm EDT
Wed Sep 19, 2007 7:48pm EDT
By Tabassum Zakaria
FORT MEADE, Maryland (Reuters) - President George W. Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to expand the government's domestic spying powers permanently or risk leaving the country vulnerable to another terrorist attack.
The Democratic-led Congress in August temporarily expanded the Bush administration's authority to monitor phone calls, e-mails and other electronic communications between individuals in the United States and someone overseas suspected of terrorism ties, without obtaining court approval.
Critics warn the program could violate the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans if their private communications are scooped up by the surveillance net.
Bush said the 1978 law on surveillance was "dangerously out of date" and unable to deal with evolving technology such as disposable cell phones and the Internet. The law must be changed to give intelligence agencies the tools needed to prevent attacks on American soil, he said.
"Without these tools it'll be harder to figure out what our enemies are doing to train, recruit and infiltrate operatives into America," Bush said during a visit to the National Security Agency, which conducts surveillance of electronic communications on targets around the world.
"Without these tools, our country will be much more vulnerable to attack," Bush added.
The expanded powers expire in February. Many Democrats are wary of renewing them permanently and want more safeguards included in future legislation.
"Today, the president continues to seek unchecked surveillance powers that many of us in Congress cannot support," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat.
"The president needs to step up to the plate and show that he is willing to work with Congress to get this important legislation passed. Political speeches deriding Democrats will not help get us closer to that goal," he said.
Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who will testify at a House of Representatives hearing on the issue on Thursday, said "I have an open mind to some changes" to the current Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
But she opposed making the temporary expansion of powers approved in August permanent. "It basically guts the careful checks and balances in FISA," she said.
The White House also wants retroactive liability protection for telecommunications firms that helped the government in the warrantless spying program and now face lawsuits. Some Democrats also support protection for the firms.
"It's particularly important for Congress to provide meaningful liability protection to those companies now facing multibillion dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in efforts to defend our nation following the 9/11 attacks," Bush said.
National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell said at a congressional hearing this week that no Americans had been targeted for warrantless eavesdropping since he took over the job in February.
The debate over domestic spying was expected to surface in the confirmation hearings of retired federal Judge Michael Mukasey, who was nominated by Bush this week to replace Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
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Restore Habeas Corpus
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