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