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Bush Puts 9/11 Suspects in Gitmo, Congress on the Spot

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:44 pm

President Bush gave what seems to be an important speech today that may prove to be a key turning point in our nation’s policy against Islamist terrorists.

Just a few days shy of the fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush invoked the shock of that day, and the fears it unleashed, to drop some eye-opening news Wednesday: 14 of the world’s most vile suspected terrorists have been transferred from secret CIA prisons abroad to Guatanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a midday White House speech, the president acknowledged for the first time the existence of the CIA prisons, where the 14 suspects, including the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 plot, had been held. He said that under tough questioning, the suspects had given up information that helped stop several, mostly familiar, plots — from a plan to fly jetliners into London’s Heathrow Airport to one to blow up the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Pakistan. And he said the suspects were being transferred so they could be tried under the administration’s proposed military tribunal system, to be created by legislation he sent to Congress Wednesday and hoped lawmakers would approve this month.

The speech was largely in part political theater, the opening act of the Republicans’ fall strategy of flexing their anti-terrorism muscles. It cast doubt on any and all who question Bush’s strategy, including the Supreme Court. Even so, there was much in Bush’s remarks on which all sides could agree: There should be clear guidelines for the treatment and questioning of detainees. If U.S. interrogators abide by those guidelines, they shouldn’t have to worry about being sued by terror suspects or prosecuted. And, most certainly, it is time to try suspected terrorists who plotted against the nation and bring them to justice.

The hard part, as it has been always been, is finding a way to balance the need to protect the nation against terrorists without compromising its values. How can information be extracted from terror suspects without endangering American troops who become prisoners? How can terror suspects be put on trial fairly without giving them access to classified information that might reveal confidential informants?

These are difficult questions over which well-intentioned people disagree. Sadly, many of the Bush administration’s policies on the treatment of prisoners, and its proposals to prosecute them, have hurt America’s image abroad and been of dubious legality — a fact now cemented in law.

In June, the Supreme Court struck down the administration’s controversial system of military commissions, asserting that they violated U.S. military law and the Geneva Conventions for dealing with prisoners of war. The problem, the court found, was not just the tribunals but Bush’s insistence that he could go it alone, without the checks and balances the Constitution prescribes. If Bush wants to keep the commissions, the justices said, he’ll have to fix those problems and persuade Congress to go along.

Of course, bringing the most notorious al-Qaeda prisoners to Guantanamo is designed to pressure Congress into approving the administration’s hard-line approach. But, at the same time, the administration is at least grudgingly expressing a new willingness to work with Congress to devise a new system.

Dr. Rusty has the full transcript.

Captain Ed has some excellent analysis, including the following:

So why reveal the program now and transfer the detainees from the CIA to the DoD? For one thing, the CIA apparently feels that these plotters have been tapped out in terms of operational intelligence. Also, with the Hamdan decision, he cannot set up secret military commissions to try them. The court tasked Congress with establishing the tribunals for all non-POWs in custody — POWs don’t get trials or courts-martial except for crimes they commit while in custody — and Bush has to wait on Congress to act.

He obviously does not want to wait long. He has already promulgated some rules of evidence and procedure to Congress, and the Hill has found much with which they disagree.

Meanwhile, Ace live-blogged it and quickly seized on the true intent of the speech.

Wants Congress To Repudiate Supreme Court Decision On Granting Geneva Protections For Terrorists: Congress must list the “specific, recognizable offenses” that will invoke a War Crimes prosecution against interrogators.

Nice. Make Congress specifically say what is illegal — and, by their omission, what is legal.

Congress dare not make belly-slapping illegal.

Put up or shut up.

Still, one must wonder just how much pressure Congress, and especially its democrat members, will actually endure if the media feels no need to press the issue. Already, the media seems to be congealing on a different aspect of the story, as the following headlines show:

Question: if a gauntlet is thrown down and there’s no one around except those that refuse to hear it, does it really make a soundbite?

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