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Gonzales takes defense of Military Commissions Act to JAG conference

[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [official profile; JURIST news archive] defended the new Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text; summary] Monday before an audience of senior military lawyers, insisting it gives enemy combatants detained at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] "greater legal rights than are provided to lawful prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions." In a speech [prepared text] to the Judge Advocate General Corps leadership [official profiles] at the Keystone Leadership Summit [conference website] in Florida, Gonzales said

[t]he new law, consistent with history, makes clear that alien enemy combatants may not file habeas corpus petitions in the civilian courts. Yet the United States provides every detainee at Guantanamo Bay the opportunity to challenge his detention not merely before a military tribunal, but also with an unprecedented appeal to our own domestic courts.

The Act also contains important provisions to reinforce our compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and to clarify for U.S. personnel their international obligations. For instance, interrogations of prisoners have proven to be among the most vital sources of intelligence in the War on Terror, and they have saved the lives of innocent civilians in the United States and around the world. These interrogations employ tough techniques, but the techniques are safe, consistent with our values, and have been carefully reviewed to ensure compliance with the law.

The Act buttresses the President's authority under our Constitution to interpret the meaning and applicability of the Geneva Conventions for the United States. It empowers the President to provide our personnel, and particularly our interrogators, with clear and authoritative guidelines for what they must do to comply with the Geneva Conventions.
Gonzales said military commissions [JURIST news archive] ensure that suspects will receive a "full and fair trial[s]" because they incorporate "fundamental" procedural safeguards such impartial military judges, JAG Corps defense counsel and a presumption of innocence unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He explained that MCA procedures depart from those for courts-martial and civilian trials in some respects, such as the admissibility of reliable hearsay evidence, only because of "wartime circumstances":
[M]any witnesses before the commissions are likely to be foreign nationals not amenable to process, and others may be unavailable because of military necessity, injury, or death. And the United States military cannot be expected to leave the battlefield to gather evidence like police officers in the course of fighting the enemy.
The MCA has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups and many legal experts since President Bush signed it into law [JURIST reports] on October 17. Gonzales' remarks to the JAG Corps leaders echo others [JURIST report] he made last week in an online White House forum. The Washington Times has more.

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