Sunday, November 19, 2006

Senate Dems plan overhaul of military tribunals bill

By Roxana Tiron
Gearing up for a major clash with the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress, several key Senate Democrats are planning to overhaul the newly minted legislation governing military tribunals of detainees.
Even before it was signed into the law last month, Democrats were criticizing the military commission bill as unconstitutional and a magnet or endless legal challenges.
Defense lawyers working on behalf of military detainees at Guantanamo Bay quickly filed suits with the U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of the tribunal bill because it suspends the writ of habeas corpus, a court order that would allow detainees to have the legality of their detention reviewed in court to determine whether they should be released from custody.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is running for president and who, come January, will be the second ranking Democrat on the International Relations Committee, introduced legislation today that would amend the existing law.
Dodd said he’s expecting the legislation to be taken up early next year.
"The bill goes back and undoes what was done," Dodd told The Hill. Dodd was one of the top critics of the military tribunal bill the GOP hashed out with the White House and was signed into law last month.
Dodd’s bill, which currently has no co-sponsors, seeks to give habeas corpus protections to military detainees; bar information that was gained through coercion from being used in trials and empower military judges to exclude hearsay evidence they deem to be unreliable.
Dodd’s bill also narrows the definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" to individuals who directly participate in hostilities against the United States who are not lawful combatants. The legislation would also authorize the U.S. Court of Appeals for the armed forces to review decisions made by the military commissions.
Moreover, Dodd seeks to have an expedited judicial review of the new law to determine the constitutionality of its provisions.
Dodd is the first Democrat to take aim at the controversial military tribunals bill. But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the incoming Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, also said that he is in the process of drafting "major changes" to the legislation.

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