This week, the House of Representatives will consider legislation authorizing military tribunals for suspected terrorists. This action was spurred by a Supreme Court decision issued in June in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld.
Salim Ahmed Hamdan was an al Qaeda operative who had close personal contacts with Osama bin Laden. He was captured in Afghanistan fighting against American troops, detained, and transferred to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Hamdan — a citizen of Yemen — claimed that he deserved the due process privileges enjoyed by American citizens.
The Supreme Court stopped short of agreeing with Hamdan but ruled that — without congressional authorization — the federal government lacked the authority to bring him to justice through a military tribunal. This brings us to where we are today. Congress is faced with two choices: we can do nothing, and allow terrorists like Hamdan to either go free or go on trial in an American civilian court. Or we can authorize tribunals for terrorists. When it comes to administering common sense justice to terrorists, I believe terrorist tribunals are the answer.
By authorizing these military tribunals, Congress can draw the parameters for detaining and administering justice to terrorists like Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the driving force behind the terror attacks of September 11. We can deliver justice to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, one of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants and one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists. He has already been indicted for his role in the East Africa Embassy bombings in August 1998.
The list goes on. Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi managed the funding for the 9/11 hijackings. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was the mastermind and local manager of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000. And Ramzi Bin al-Shibh served as an intermediary between the September 11 hijackers in the U.S. and al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. None of these terrorists are U.S. citizens. Each is in U.S. custody. And each has proven links to Osama bin Laden and his terror network.
Putting terrorists like these on trial in a civilian court would provide them with access to classified information. Such information — if it fell into the wrong hands — could be exploited on the battlefield to harm American troops.
So how would these tribunals work? The legislation we are considering is based on rules and procedures from previous military commissions, international tribunals, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It provides basic fairness for accused terrorists by allowing them the opportunity to mount a full defense. It excludes statements by terrorists obtained through torture. And it would provide defense counsel to accused terrorists with the necessary clearances to review classified information on the accused terrorist’s behalf.
This legislation will also allow us to continue to gather important intelligence information from foreign terrorists caught in battle or while plotting attacks on America. As President Bush has said, the information we’ve learned from captured terrorists "has helped us to take potential mass murderers off the streets before they were able to kill."
Not only does this legislation enjoy bipartisan support, but it helps us meet a 9/11 Commission recommendation that America "develop a common coalition approach toward the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists."
Authorizing terrorist tribunals is part of our broader effort to strengthen national security. We are crafting a system that administers common sense justice to terrorists while protecting the American people and our men and women in uniform. Military tribunals can play an important role in the Global War on Terror, and will serve as a crucial tool for helping to prevent future terrorist attacks.