- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2006

President Bush yesterday publicly acknowledged the CIA is running a classified program to interrogate top terror suspects, saying it has prevented attacks and demanding that Congress act quickly to give it official status.

Mr. Bush also sent Congress a bill laying out rules for military trials for terror suspects, in response to a Supreme Court ruling in June that said tribunals for detainees must be approved by legislators.

Speaking at the White House to an audience that included families that lost relatives in the September 11 attacks, he said that soon after the attacks he authorized the CIA to imprison and question the top suspects captured in the war on terror.

He said the interrogations have helped thwart an al Qaeda effort to make anthrax and a plot to fly airplanes into buildings, among other attacks.

Mr. Bush said that the CIA recently transferred September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and 13 top terror suspects to the Defense Department for military trials, and that the only hurdle left was congressional action.

“We’re now approaching the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice,” Mr. Bush said.

“As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September the 11th, 2001, can face justice.”

Democrats said that Mr. Bush’s announcement marked a reversal of policy, and that it was about time. But they also said that by sending his own bill, he was throwing a monkey wrench into bipartisan efforts already at work on Capitol Hill.

“The last thing we need is a repeat of the arrogant, go-it-alone behavior that has jeopardized and delayed efforts to bring these terrorists to justice for five years,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The June Supreme Court ruling said detainees in the war on terror are covered by the Geneva Conventions. That left the CIA program in doubt, and Mr. Bush said he had to go public and seek congressional authorization to preserve the program.

The court also said Congress must approve military tribunals.

Mr. Bush’s proposal would let terrorists have attorneys, would let them appeal tribunal verdicts and would preserve the right against self-incrimination. It also would allow the use of classified evidence given when the defendant was not present.

The top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, have been working on a bill that differs from Mr. Bush’s on classified information and hearsay rules.

Mr. Warner said yesterday that he expects they can resolve any differences and get a bill to the Senate floor soon.

“In my judgment, we can close any gaps,” he said.

The military’s chief prosecutor for detainees told the Associated Press yesterday that trials could begin in early 2007 if Congress acts soon. Air Force Col. Morris Davis also said that “it would be reasonable” to expect prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Mohammed.

The administration yesterday offered extraordinary details about the CIA program and disrupted terrorist plots.

A senior intelligence official, briefing reporters before the speech, said that fewer than 100 terror suspects had been part of the CIA program and ther are no such suspects currently in CIA custody.

The official said the information gleaned from interrogations was checked against other sources.

Another top administration official, also speaking on the condition that he not be named, said Mr. Bush wants congressional authorization within three weeks — a tight legislative schedule.

House Democrats said Congress must take time to review Mr. Bush’s proposal, and Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said his speech was “the opening salvo in the fall campaign.”

“As a person who comes to work every day trying to understand the complexities of the threats against us, I resent being told that either I suspend the laws for heinous murderers like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, or I am coddling terrorists,” she said.

But Republicans in Congress said the speech was a shot in the arm, particularly by naming specific terrorists and plots.

“I don’t think the White House has ever laid it out all in a row like that. There have been bits and pieces of information, but not in one hard-hitting speech,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican. “I think that speech could be the model people are looking for as to why we’re at Guantanamo and the other things we’re doing in the war on terror.”

The speech was the third in a series in which the president has sought to bolster support for the war on terror.

He said yesterday that information gleaned from detainees included operational details such as training to set off explosives high enough in tall buildings so that survivors cannot escape via upper-floor windows. The president also said interrogations exposed the anthrax plot, prevented a terrorist attack on U.S. Marines at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti and thwarted a plot to fly hijacked airplanes into London’s Heathrow Airport.

“Information from terrorists in CIA custody has played a role in the capture or questioning of nearly every senior al Qaeda member or associate detained by the U.S. and its allies since this program began,” Mr. Bush said.

The conservative group Progress for America will announce today a “significant ad buy” to nationally broadcast a commercial titled “They Want to Kill Us,” said a source familiar with the effort. The ad aims to highlight the continuing threat of terrorism and shore up public support for the war in Iraq.

• Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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