- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2002

PHILADELPHIA (AP) The American Bar Association, defying an administration request to keep quiet, yesterday voted to recommend that defendants tried before military tribunals be guaranteed traditional legal protections.
Military tribunals should guarantee that defendants are presumed innocent and must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the nation's largest and most influential lawyers' group declared. A death sentence should require a unanimous verdict.
The vote was 286-147 to attach those and other conditions to the use of tribunals, which are expected to be used when suspected members of the al Qaeda terrorist network are tried.
"Our system does not work, democracy does not live, unless we are willing to give the same rights to the worst of us as to the best of us," Miami defense lawyer Neal Sonnett said.
The vote means the ABA, though not contesting President Bush's power to use tribunals, insists the special terror courts be used only in limited circumstances and under established legal and constitutional rules.
The Bush administration lobbied the ABA to remain silent on the subject at the organization's first meeting since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Pentagon is still writing rules for tribunals, and the ABA should not weigh in with "inflexible" conditions that could tie the president's hands in a changing war on terror, Solicitor General Theodore Olson told ABA leaders yesterday.
"Unless we are absolutely sure in our minds that the contents of this resolution will not produce unintended consequences to our country and to our president as commander in chief, we should not put it forth as the definitive position of America's principled voice of the legal profession," Mr. Olson said.
The ABA has no enforcement power, and its statements are only recommendations. Still, the ABA's positions have traditionally been influential in Washington.
The organization has had a more distant relationship with the Bush White House than with past administrations. Within months of taking office, the administration fired the ABA from its prestigious role of vetting candidates for federal judgeships.
Tribunals should follow the established rules for military courts-martial, including the right to appeal to the Supreme Court, the ABA said.
Lesser protections could undermine the rights of U.S. citizens tried abroad, it said.
"We have to remember the rules we apply here are the rules other countries will apply," said New York lawyer Evan Davis, a sponsor of the policy statement. "It is a two-way street."
Tribunals have not been used in the United States since World War II. In the past, they have provided fewer legal and constitutional guarantees for defendants and have operated with far greater secrecy than ordinary civilian or military courts.


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