Bush sends draft military commissions bill to Congress

Bush sends draft military commissions bill to Congress

[JURIST] US President Bush on Wednesday presented the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text; White House fact sheet], proposed legislation that would authorize military commissions [JURIST news archive] for terror detainees and enemy combatants. The Bush administration agreed to work with Congress [JURIST report] to authorize military commissions for terror detainees after the US Supreme Court ruled in June in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld [opinion text] that military commissions as initially constituted lacked proper legal authorization [JURIST report]. According to Bush's message to Congress [text]:

This draft legislation responds to the Supreme Court of the United States decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 126 S. Ct. 2749 (2006), by establishing for the first time in our Nation's history a comprehensive statutory structure for military commissions that would allow for the fair and effective prosecution of captured members of al Qaeda and other unlawful enemy combatants. The Act also addresses the Supreme Court's holding that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to the conflict with al Qaeda by providing definitions rooted in United States law for the standards of conduct prescribed by Common Article 3.

The military commission procedures contained in this draft legislation reflect the result of an extended deliberation both within the executive branch and between representatives of my Administration and Members of Congress. The draft legislation would establish a Code of Military Commissions that tracks the courts-martial procedures of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but that departs from those procedures where they would be impracticable or inappropriate for the trial of unlawful enemy combatants captured in the midst of an ongoing armed conflict, under circumstances far different from those typically encountered by military prosecutors.

Five years after the mass murders of 9/11, it is time for the United States to begin to prosecute captured al Qaeda members for the serious crimes that many of them have committed against United States citizens and our allies abroad. As we provide terrorists the justice and due process that they denied their victims, we demonstrate that our Nation remains committed to the rule of law.

Bush announced that he would send the draft legislation to Congress in a wide-ranging Wednesday afternoon speech on the global war on terror [transcript], during which he also disclosed that 14 high-value terror detainees held in secret CIA prisons have been transferred to Guantanamo [JURIST report] for eventual trial by military commission. Reacting to Bush's speech, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid stressed the importance of bringing terror suspects to justice, but noted that the Senate Armed Services Committee is drafting a proposal [press release] which "reflects the views of our senior uniformed military lawyers." Congress held several hearings [JURIST report] on the issue over the summer, and competing proposals are expected to be introduced in Congress in the coming weeks. There has been disagreement about how many rights should be granted to detainees. Top military lawyers have pressed [JURIST report] the Senate Armed Services Committee to create legislation based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice [text] and the courts-martial system.

Meanwhile, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor for detainees at Guantanamo, said Wednesday that detainee trials could resume early next year [AP report] if Congress passes authorizing legislation. Davis said that the Defense Department could take up to three months to draft new tribunal rules, but that he expected to be back in court around January. Approximately 75 detainees are likely to face charges.