- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Sen. Charles E. Schumer will hold a hearing next week to scrutinize President Bush's proposed military tribunals for captured terrorists.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, says he wants to determine if the president has the authority to create the tribunals and whether they are the right tool to prosecute terrorists.

"It's not clear whether military tribunals are the best way to accomplish this," Mr. Schumer said yesterday, though he added that he had an open mind and was willing to be convinced of the tribunals' necessity and legal provenance.

Earlier this month, the president signed an executive order creating military tribunals that could be used to try members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization or others charged with terrorist acts. The trials could be held in secret, and rules of evidence and standards for conviction would be relaxed, compared with those of civilian criminal courts.

The administration has defended the tribunals as the right way to preserve important secrets and protect judges and juries. Even Attorney General John Ashcroft, who normally would be expected to prosecute those who attacked America on September 11, has said that trying suspected terrorists in criminal courts might compromise national-security secrets.

He also has said that if the government decided that information needed to prosecute a case was too valuable to the national-security interests to be made public, that decision could impede convictions.

Several Republicans have defended the president's authority to create tribunals.

"I thought the Constitution authorized that with some military tribunals that were used on some German Nazis after World War II, and also Lincoln used them," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Mr. Schumer, who as chairman of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on courts will run Tuesday's hearing, said the World War II tribunals had specific approval from Congress, and he said he wanted to hear more from the administration and academics on the question.

"Of one thing I'm certain vetting this proposal, and trying to see if there are better ways to do it and how it will work, is the right thing," Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Schumer's hearings dovetail with hearings that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, is holding today and next week, marking an effort by Senate Democrats to review the administration's pursuit of terrorists in the United States and abroad.

In today's hearing, the committee will air concerns about the Justice Department's detention of more than 550 people in the ongoing investigation of the September 11 attacks, as well as a Bureau of Prisons order authorizing eavesdropping on attorney-client communications.

The scheduled witnesses include Assistant Attorney General Michael J. Chertoff, who heads the department's criminal division; former Attorney General William Barr; former Attorney General Griffin Bell; and former Deputy Attorney General Phillip B. Heymann.

The hearing sets the stage for Mr. Ashcroft's scheduled appearance before the committee Dec. 6.

In an Oct. 31 letter, committee Democrats asked for the names and detailed accounts of the charges of those being detained, but the department's Nov. 16 response did not contain the requested information.

Assistant Attorney General Daniel J. Bryant told the committee that the department did not "maintain records responsive to your request on individuals who have been arrested or detained on state or local criminal charges." Much of the department's response to the committee was redacted to protect the privacy rights of those being detained.

At a press conference yesterday, Mr. Ashcroft confirmed that more than 550 people remained in custody on immigration violations but said their names would not be released because it could violate their privacy rights and give valuable information to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist organization.

Mr. Ashcroft said no one had been detained who had not violated some law, and no one detained had been denied the right to contact an attorney.

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