- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

The House yesterday approved President Bush’s proposal for the handling of terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, bringing the administration one step closer to having the legal authority to interrogate and prosecute the detainees.

“These terrorist tribunals will allow the suspected terrorists to address the charges against them with legal defense provided by the U.S. government,” House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said after the vote.

In a mostly party-line 253-168 vote, Republicans backed the bill by a 219-7 margin and Democrats opposed it by a 160-34 margin. The House’s one independent voted “no.” The measure now goes to the Senate.

Just before voting, Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, made clear that Republicans will use the vote in the November elections against Democrats who opposed the bill.

“Will my Democrat friends work with Republicans to give the president the tools he needs to continue to stop terrorist attacks before they happen, or will they vote to force him to fight the terrorists with one arm tied behind his back?” he said.

Republican leaders were quick to criticize Democrats who voted against the legislation.

“Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists,” Mr. Hastert said. “So, the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled if we followed the Democrat plan.”

Pelosi spokeswoman Jennifer Crider decried “Speaker Hastert’s false and inflammatory rhetoric,” calling it “yet another desperate attempt to mislead the American people and provoke fear.

“Democrats will not be swift-boated,” she said, referring to ads that hurt Democrats’ 2004 presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry. “We want [terrorists] punished, whatever that punishment is, and don’t want it overturned by the Supreme Court. This bill may make it more likely the Supreme Court will overturn those convictions and may put our troops at greater risk.”

The proposal would grant terror suspects more legal rights than they had under the system of military tribunals set up by the administration after the September 11 attacks, which the Supreme Court struck down in June. Nevertheless, the new courts would not grant many of the basic rights Americans usually have in civilian and military courts, a point Democrats protested.

“This bill is everything we don’t believe in,” said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat.

Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, said the proposal doesn’t provide enough checks and balances to prevent erroneous convictions.

Other provisions opposed by Democrats give the president broad authority to decide which techniques U.S. interrogators can use legally.

American interrogators and prosecutors, Mr. Frank said, “are the good guys, but they’re not the perfect guys.”

During the debate, U.S. Capitol Police had to remove several hecklers from the chamber who were protesting the legislation.

The House vote took place shortly after Democrats and Republicans in the Senate reached an agreement to take up the measure with only a handful of amendments. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told reporters that he hoped to pass the bill today without any of the amendments being approved, so it could go directly to Mr. Bush’s desk for his signature.

Mr. Frist said voters will side with those who support the tribunals.

“People realize it’s a new world,” said Mr. Frist, Tennessee Republican. “We need to have appropriate tools.”

Democrats said they expect the bill to be overwhelmingly approved on a bipartisan basis. But, they said, they will continue to work to get amendments added.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said he opposes the bill no matter what. He also said the haste to pass the measure was politically motivated.

“By failing to renounce torture, it inflames an already dangerous world and makes for America new enemies in our war against terror,” he said. “This puts our cause, our people and our troops at greater risk.”

“There is no question that the rush to pass this bill — which is the product of secret negotiations with the White House — is about serving a political agenda,” Mr. Kennedy said. “That is no way to produce careful and thoughtful legislation on profound issues of national security.”



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