- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

1:44 p.m.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee warned today against being lax in prosecuting detainees in the war on terrorism.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said relying on the Pentagon’s court-martial system could force the release of dangerous terrorists and put them back on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We won’t lower our standards. We will always treat detainees humanely, but we also cannot be naive, either,” he said. His broadside came a day after the Bush administration said such detainees are protected by the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Hunter’s panel was conducting a hearing on the legal rights of detainees after a June 29 Supreme Court ruling that the Pentagon’s planned military tribunal system violates international law.

The 5-3 ruling has prompted Congress to try to pass legislation authorizing the tribunals or an alternative before detainees could be prosecuted.

In opening remarks at the hearing, Mr. Hunter suggested that Congress must not grant detainees access to the military’s courts-martial system because it would afford them certain rights, such as immediately being informed of charges against them and immediate access to legal counsel.

Some Democrats have contended that the Pentagon should rely on the courts-martial system — a suggestion opposed by the administration, which contends that doing so would expose sensitive information and hinder interrogations.

“It may not be practical on the battlefield to read the enemy the Miranda warnings,” Mr. Hunter said.

Democrats called such rhetoric a red herring because the courts-martial system can be tweaked to address those concerns.

“No one is saying” that Miranda rights must be read to terrorists, said Rep. Vic Snyder, Arkansas Democrat and a member of the committee.

Daniel J. Dell’Orto, the Pentagon’s principal deputy general counsel, said establishing an acceptable court system for terror suspects using the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) would require a “gutting” of the current law.

Democrats on the House panel said they favor a bipartisan effort to create a system for trying terror war captives, but they didn’t hesitate to note the criticism that President Bush’s detainee policies have prompted overseas.

“It is now our collective responsibility to undertake a deliberative and bipartisan process to create a law which will both bring convictions of these terrorists and restore American credibility in the international community,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, North Carolina Democrat.

Republican moderates in the Senate — including Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina — have said they are open to using the military’s court-martial system as a template to build a new court system to prosecute detainees.

“I believe we can work out … a framework that does not have all the guarantees of the UCMJ and still complies” with the Supreme Court decision, Mr. McCain said.

Like Mr. Hunter, those senators have declined to say exactly what they have in mind, giving the administration time to offer its own legislative proposal.

Mr. Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is scheduled to conduct a hearing on the legal rights of detainees tomorrow.

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