- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

President Bush yesterday signed into law new rules for detaining and trying terrorism suspects, and authorizing the CIA to use strong interrogation techniques to try to break up terrorist plots.

“It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill he knows will save American lives,” Mr. Bush said in a ceremony in the White House’s East Room, calling the bill a defining symbol of U.S. commitment to defeating terrorists.

The ceremony marked the end of a six-week push for the bill, during which Mr. Bush and top Republicans in Congress fought over specifics. Democrats attacked the entire framework of the CIA program.

The CIA had detained and interrogated about 100 terrorism suspects over the past five years in secret facilities. Mr. Bush last month declassified the broad outlines of the program so he could send Congress a bill to authorize and further legitimize the program.

The president identified six plots that were thwarted because of information gleaned from terrorism suspects who were detained under the program.

Amnesty International USA and other rights groups said they will fight the law, arguing that it will lead to interrogation techniques that most would consider torture. Democrats, meanwhile, said the CIA program is a disservice to American traditions of law and order. They also accused Mr. Bush of playing politics with the measure.

“Everything about this bill stinks of desperate election-year politics,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. “After repeatedly saying, ‘Time is running out,’ President Bush decided to wait 19 days to sign this bill in an attempt to keep the Republican scandals from drowning his message on the evening news.”

The bill passed the House by a 250-170 vote and the Senate by a vote of 65-34. In both chambers, most Republicans voted in favor and most Democrats against.

The CIA program went dormant over the summer and the remaining detainees were transferred, but White House press secretary Tony Snow would not say yesterday whether it had been restarted.

“I am not at liberty to divulge any further details about what may have happened in the last two hours since the law was signed,” he said.

Although most of the focus has been on the CIA program, the bill also authorizes military commissions to try terrorism suspects. The provision was a response to a Supreme Court ruling in June that such commissions were appropriate, but needed specific approval from Congress.

Mr. Bush called the framework for trials lawful, fair and necessary. Democrats say rights are curbed excessively, and they expect court challenges and overturned convictions.

Meanwhile, 16 protesters from a variety of religious groups opposed to the counterterrorism bill were arrested yesterday morning near the White House. The demonstrators shouted, “Bush is the terrorist” and “Torture is a crime.”

Lt. Scott Fear of the U.S. Park Police said the demonstrators were charged with impeding access to a White House entrance.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, attended the signing ceremony. He said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, should be the first person tried.

“Family members of the 9/11 victims, America’s citizens and the people of the civilized world fully expect the prosecution of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Let’s do it,” he said in a letter to Mr. Bush.

Mr. Snow said it will be at least a month before trials begin.

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