- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Monday urged Congress to ensure a landmark Supreme Court case doesn’t result in compromised intelligence and the release of suspected terrorists in the U.S.

In June, the Supreme Court gave Guantanamo detainees the right to use civilian courts to challenge their detention, but offered little guidance on how such hearings should be conducted.

“Unless Congress acts, the lower federal courts will determine the specific procedural rules that govern the more than 200 cases that are now pending,” Mr. Mukasey said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “With so many cases, there is a serious risk of inconsistent rulings and considerable uncertainty.”

It appears unlikely Congress will act on the attorney general’s request.

“It is hard to imagine that Congress can give this complex issue the attention it deserves in the closing weeks of the legislative session,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “The courts are well equipped to handle the situations, and there is no danger that any detainee will be released in the meantime.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said it was “regrettable” that Mr. Mukasey did not speak with his committee about his requests before his speech.

“With so little time left in this legislative session and the complexity of these issues, it may be an issue more responsibly addressed in the next Congress with a new president,” Mr. Leahy said.

The government says there are about 270 detainees at Guantanamo. Twenty detainees face war crimes charges, though authorities plan to charge as many as 80.

Mr. Mukasey’s remarks came as the first military war crimes trial of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, the former driver of Osama bin Laden, began in Guantanamo.

Last week, a federal judge in the District declined Mr. Hamdan’s request to delay his military trial while he challenges his detention in civilian court.

Mr. Mukasey praised that decision. As part of his request to Congress, he said detainees should not be allowed to appeal to civilian courts until after their military trials.

He also requested that detainees not be brought to the U.S. when their cases are heard in civilian courts, saying satellite links would allow the detainees to participate and ensure Americans’ safety. Similarly, he said a detainee who wins freedom should not be released in the U.S.

Mr. Mukasey also called on Congress to keep classified the information that led to the detention of suspected terrorists in the first place.

“We need to protect our national security secrets and we can do so in a way that is fair to both the government and the detainees alike,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union called Mr. Mukasey’s requests “an enormous executive branch power grab,” while the Alliance for Justice, a liberal organization, said it meant to “scare Congress into passing needless legislation.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees, called Mr. Mukasey’s requests “a shocking attempt to drag us into years of further legal challenges and delays.”

In response, Mr. Mukasey said his requests are “established in existing law” and give the “practical answers” the Supreme Court sought when it gave detainees access to civilian courts.

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