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Bush signs anti-terror law

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush yesterday signed

an act authorizing his orders for tough CIA interrogations and military trials

of accused terrorists, and his administration moved quickly to assert his

authority under the new law.

In the first action taken under the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the

Justice Department yesterday notified the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that

the new law strips it and all other courts of jurisdiction over the hundreds of

pending habeas petitions filed by Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Administration lawyers also are preparing for trials under the newly

designed tribunals that it hopes to hold for high-profile accused terrorists,

including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, White House spokesman

Tony Snow said yesterday.

Those trials could be held in as little as two to three months, Snow said.

"The bill I sign today helps secure this country and it sends a clear

message: This nation is patient and decent and fair and will never back down

from threats to our freedom," Bush said.

But while Bush at a White House signing ceremony lauded the act for

preserving the "vital" CIA secret interrogation program because it will save

lives, a religious coalition in the rain outside protested a law it says

condones torture, and detainees' lawyers in Boston and Washington immediately

filed a motion that challenges the court-stripping provision.

Several of the act's provisions will be challenged in court, including the

law's broad definition of enemy combatant and the ban on habeas petitions, say

lawyers for detainees.

Although the act won approval with bipartisan support in Congress late last

month, it remains emotionally and politically charged, touching off angry

reactions by human rights activists and liberal Democrats while feeding into

the Republicans' political campaign based on Bush's war on terror.

Amnesty International said, "Now bad policy has become bad law. The

administration can now hold people indefinitely, without charge or without

trial, with congressional authorization."

But several Republicans lambasted Democrats who voted against the bill,

charging they seek to "pamper terrorists" and "give them new rights." Many

Democrats responded that Bush bungled the tribunals, losing court cases that

delayed trials for years, and they accused Bush of holding a bill signing that

was timed to politically aid the GOP.

Bush acknowledged controversy over the act. "Over the past few months, the

debate over this bill has been heated, and the questions raised can seem

complex," he said.

But Bush also said, "When I proposed this legislation, I explained that I

would have one test for the bill Congress produced: Will it allow the CIA

program to continue? This bill meets that test."

Yet the lawyers group Human Rights First, the only such organization to

back the act's language on inhumane and cruel treatment, held a news conference

to dispute that claim.

The act's language and legislative history would bar tactics such as

waterboarding that the CIA reportedly used in the past, said Elisa Massimino,

the group's Washington director.

"Some CIA program may go forward," she said, but not one using "abusive

interrogation techniques."

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