- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

1:38 p.m.

Two Republican senators said today that senior Bush administration officials agreed to back legislation that would prosecute suspected terrorists under a court system based on the military’s code of justice.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John W. Warner of Virginia cited recent meetings with Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, and other top administration officials. The White House agreed to a measure that would prosecute detainees using a system based on the existing Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), they said, which would extend more rights and protections to defendants than the military commissions established by the Pentagon.

A Supreme Court ruling on June 29 struck down the Pentagon’s military commissions as unlawful. Congress has the option of passing legislation that would either authorize such commissions or establish a new system to prosecute enemy combatants.

“At that time, I was under the impression that that was the administration’s position,” Mr. McCain said of his meetings with the White House. “I hope that hadn’t changed.”

Such a promise by the White House would contradict testimony heard earlier this week from administration officials who told lawmakers that Congress must not rely on the UCMJ because it would grant terrorists too many freedoms and would be impractical on the battlefield. In their testimony, officials representing the Departments of Defense and Justice advocated that Congress pass legislation authorizing the military commissions.

Mr. Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he was “somewhat perplexed” by this week’s testimony by administration figures and said he hoped to set the record straight.

“But, in due course, we’ll work that out,” he said.

The senators made their remarks at the beginning of a committee hearing on detainee policies. Testifying were several active and retired judge advocates general; the administration was not represented.

Mr. Warner said he thinks the administration needs time to smooth over “some honest differences of opinion” and will propose legislation soon after senior officials return from the Group of Eight summit this month. It is “absolutely imperative” Congress pass legislation before adjourning this year, he said.

“The eyes of the world are upon us, and we must set the standards,” Mr. Warner said.

The judge advocates general said Congress should not ratify the military tribunals, as the administration had suggested, because that would not be an appropriate response to the Supreme Court ruling. The ruling determined that detainees should be protected under the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. McCain, who last year led the charge to ban abuse of military detainees, said America’s image was suffering because of the nation’s treatment of its war prisoners.

“We will have more wars, and there will be Americans who will be taken captive. If we somehow carve out exceptions to treaties to which we are signatories, then it will make it very easy for enemies to do the same to American prisoners,” he said.

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