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Homeland Security

06 September 2006

Bush Says High-Level Detainees Will Face Fair Military Trial

Defends CIA interrogation program as having saved many lives around the world

Washington -- President Bush announced that he is sending draft legislation to the U.S. Congress that specifically would authorize U.S. military commissions to try captured terrorist suspects and would clarify the rules governing how U.S. interrogators may question detainees to gather intelligence against terrorist organizations and prevent potential terrorist activities.

Speaking at the White House September 6, Bush also acknowledged that the CIA has been holding and interrogating suspected terrorists, including members of al-Qaida. He said the remaining 14 prisoners in the program are being transferred to the Department of Defense's detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they will await trial by U.S. military commissions.

Among those being transferred for trial are suspected terrorists Khalid Sheik Mohammed, believed to be the third-highest al-Qaida leader before his 2003 capture in Pakistan; Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be September 11, 2001, hijacker; and Abu Zubaydah, who allegedly served as a link between al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and many cells in his organization.

PROPOSED LEGISLATION WOULD ENSURE FAIR TRIAL, PRESIDENT SAYS

Working with members of Congress, Bush said he was putting forward legislation to ensure the military commissions "are established in a way that protects our national security and ensures a full and fair trial for those accused."

The trials could begin as soon as Congress authorizes the commissions, the president said, adding that the United States also will seek to prosecute those accused of the terrorist attacks upon the USS Cole and another detainee believed to be involved in the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (See related article.) 

"With these prosecutions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans:  No matter how long it takes, we will find you and we will bring you to justice," Bush said.

He said the International Committee of the Red Cross will be notified and given the opportunity to meet with the 14 men.  "Those charged with crimes will be given access to attorneys who will help them prepare their defense, and they will be presumed innocent," Bush said.

The president also said the Defense Department is releasing a new field manual September 6 that defines the treatment and interrogation procedures for detainees. (See related article.)

Repeating his desire to close the detention facility at Guantanamo eventually, Bush said he is continuing to urge countries around the world to take back those citizens being held at Guantanamo who will not be prosecuted by U.S. military commissions. "America has no interest in being the world's jailer," he said

But, he added, many countries either have refused to take their nationals back or have not provided "adequate assurances" that the individuals will not be mistreated and will not return to participate in future terrorist activities.

Of the thousands of individuals captured worldwide in the War on Terror, only about 770 have been sent to Guantanamo; of those, about 455 remain in U.S. custody, Bush said. "They are provided the same quality of medical care as the American service members who guard them.  The International Committee of the Red Cross has the opportunity to meet privately with all who are held there," the president added.

CIA INTERROGATION PROGRAM HAS BEEN "VITAL TOOL"

The president said the transfer of the 14 individuals to Guantanamo means that "there are now no terrorists in the CIA program."  But, he said, as more high-ranking suspected terrorists are captured, the program will be "crucial" to obtaining information that could save lives.

Bush defended the program, saying captured terrorists "have unique knowledge" about how their networks operate, where operatives are deployed, and about plots that are under way. 

"This is intelligence that cannot be found any other place, and our security depends on getting this kind of information," he said.  "To win the war on terror, we must be able to detain, question, and when appropriate, prosecute terrorists captured here in America and on the battlefields around the world."

Thanks to the information gained by the program, "everything from initial leads to photo identifications, to precise locations of where terrorists were hiding," the president said potential mass murderers were taken into custody "before they were able to kill," and authorities gained a greater understanding of al-Qaida's structure, financing, communications and logistics.

The program is "invaluable" to the United States and its allies and is "one of the most vital tools" in the war against terror, Bush said.

The president also said he has asked the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to clarify the rules for U.S. personnel involved in the War on Terror by listing "specific recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes under the War Crimes Act" and clarify that those following those rules and standards "are fulfilling America's obligations under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions," that prohibits treatment deemed "outrageous upon personal dignity and humiliating and degrading".

In addition, Bush said he had asked Congress to clarify that captured terrorists will not be able to use the Geneva Conventions "as a basis to sue our personnel ... in U.S. courts."

He repeated that the United States does not torture.  "It's against our laws, and it's against our values.  I have not authorized it, and I will not authorize it," he said.

Part of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 29 decision in the case brought by suspected terrorist and Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan determined that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to the U.S. war with the al-Qaida organization. (See related article.)

However, Bush said, "The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article 3 are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges," he said, and could result in U.S. military and intelligence personnel facing prosecution under the U.S. War Crimes Act "simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way." 

For additional details, see a transcript of the president's remarks.

SENIOR OFFICIALS EXPLAIN TIMING OF PRESIDENT'S DECISION

Prior to the president's remarks, senior administration officials speaking on background said it always has been the Bush administration's intention to bring the suspected terrorists to justice. The officials said the administration had been waiting for the Supreme Court to rule in the Hamdan case on whether trials by military commissions were "an appropriate venue" in which to do so.

The Supreme Court ruling confirmed that military commissions are appropriate, but determined the commissions needed additional congressional authorization, the officials said.  Since the ruling, the administration discussed the issue with members of Congress, and now both the executive and legislative branches can respond to the Supreme Court's ruling, the officials said.

"There is an urgency to move forward to bring people to justice.  There is an urgency to clarify the legal standards, post Hamdan decisions that apply to the detention and interrogation and questioning of detainees," the officials said.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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