- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday challenged President Bush's call for special U.S. military tribunals to try foreigners accused of terrorist attacks, saying the trials could give the world the impression that the United States is looking for "victor's justice."
"We need to understand the international implications of the president's order, which sends a message to the world that it is acceptable to hold secret trials and summary executions, without the possibility of judicial review," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, in what many consider the opening volley of a bitter fight by Democrats to oppose the trials.
"Could this put U.S. citizens abroad, including military personnel and peacekeepers, at grave risk? We also must take care not to give the court of world opinion the impression that what we have in mind is victor's justice," he said.
The president's military order gives Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld the authority to establish the courts, similar to those established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after World War II. Mr. Bush said he had determined that "an extraordinary emergency exists for national defense purposes, that this emergency constitutes an urgent and compelling government interest, and that issuance of this order was necessary to meet the emergency."
White House Counsel Al Gonzales said the order gives Mr. Bush an option and an additional tool other than civilian courts for bringing to justice those directly responsible for attacks like the September 11 assaults.
"The president would make a separate independent finding that someone was a member of a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and that it was in the interests of the United States that the person be prosecuted," Mr. Gonzales said. "That person would then be delivered to the secretary of defense who would take control of the individual."
The order specifically names the al Qaeda terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The group has been harbored by Afghanistan's Taliban.
Mr. Leahy also questioned whether the order "fits under our Constitution and legal system," adding that Congress had passed new anti-terrorism legislation "anticipating that they will be charged and prosecuted as regular criminals, not war criminals."
"There has been no formal declaration of war, and in the meantime, our civilian courts remain open and available to try suspected terrorists," he said. "All this raises questions about whether the president can lawfully authorize the use of military commissions to try persons arrested here."
Mr. Leahy said there is "rising concern" in Congress about the administration's "preference for unilateralism as it promotes policy changes ranging from restructuring the INS to eavesdropping on detainees' conversations with their attorneys to this order on military tribunals."
"This approach needlessly threatens the unity that Congress and the administration have forged since September 11," he said. "We are all in this together, and the spirit of bipartisanship that has largely prevailed in Congress since September 11 must be reciprocated by the administration if it is to endure."

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