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Bush urges congressional action on military commissions, surveillance bills

[JURIST] At a press conference [transcript; recorded video] in the Rose Garden Friday, President Bush urged members of Congress to approve his proposed legislation [PDF text; White House fact sheet] authorizing the use of military commissions [JURIST news archive] for terror detainees and enemy combatants, currently competing for passage with another bill approved [JURIST report] Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee [official website].

Bush said:

The bill I have proposed will ensure that suspected terrorists will receive full and fair trials, without revealing to them our nation's sensitive intelligence secrets. As soon as Congress acts on this bill, the man our intelligence agencies believe helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks can face justice.

The bill would also provide clear rules for our personnel involved in detaining and questioning captured terrorists. The information that the Central Intelligence Agency has obtained by questioning men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has provided valuable information and has helped disrupt terrorist plots, including strikes within the United States....

I am asking Congress to pass a clear law with clear guidelines based on the Detainee Treatment Act that was strongly supported by Senator John McCain. There is a debate about the specific provisions in my bill, and we'll work with Congress to continue to try to find common ground. I have one test for this legislation, I'm going to answer one question as this legislation proceeds, and it's this: The intelligence community must be able to tell me that the bill Congress sends to my desk will allow this vital program to continue. That's what I'm going to ask.
Responding to reporters' questions, Bush expanded on his call for "clear rules" for US interrogators:
This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court's ruling [in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld] that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article III of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation. And what I'm proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they are doing is legal. You know, it's -- and so the piece of legislation I sent up there provides our professionals that which is needed to go forward....

Now, the Court said that you've got to live under Article III of the Geneva Convention, and the standards are so vague that our professionals won't be able to carry forward the program, because they don't want to be tried as war criminals. They don't want to break the law. These are decent, honorable citizens who are on the front line of protecting the American people, and they expect our government to give them clarity about what is right and what is wrong in the law. And that's what we have asked to do.

And we believe a good way to go is to use the amendment that we worked with John McCain on, called the Detainee Treatment Act, as the basis for clarity for people we would ask to question the enemy. In other words, it is a way to bring U.S. law into play. It provides more clarity for our professionals. And that's what these people expect. These are decent citizens who don't want to break the law.

Now, this idea that somehow we've got to live under international treaties, you know -- and that's fine, we do, but oftentimes the United States passes law to clarify obligations under international treaty. And what I'm concerned about is if we don't do that, then it's very conceivable our professionals could be held to account based upon court decisions in other countries. And I don't believe Americans want that. I believe Americans want us to protect the country, to have clear standards for our law enforcement intelligence officers, and give them the tools necessary to protect us within the law.
At the press conference Bush also addressed the disputed legality of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] and urged Congress to take action there as well:
The second bill before Congress would modernize our electronic surveillance laws and provide additional authority for the terrorist surveillance program. I authorized the National Security Agency to operate this vital program in response to the 9/11 attacks. It allows us to quickly monitor terrorist communications between someone overseas and someone in the United States, and it's helped detect and prevent attacks on our country.

The principle behind this program is clear: when an al Qaeda operative is calling into the United States or out of the country, we need to know who they're calling, why they're calling, and what they're planning.
AP has more.

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