Bush Says Military Commissions Act Will Bring Justice
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2006 President Bush today signed into law an act he said will bring justice to terrorists who attacked America.
Bush signed the Military Commission Act of 2006 into law during a White House ceremony.
The act will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue gathering information that will save American lives, the president said, and it sends a clear message to those who threaten it.
“This nation is patient and decent and fair, and we will never back down from the threats to our freedom,” he said. “We are as determined today as we were on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001. We will meet our obligation to protect our people, and no matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”
The new law establishes the procedures military commissions will use in trying unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States. Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives fall into the definition of unlawful enemy combatants.
The act lays out exactly how the military commissions are convened, and what procedural safeguards must be in place. These include a presumption of innocence, proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right of the accused to represent himself, and inadmissibility of statements obtained through torture.
In addition, the law provides for a right to call and cross-examine witnesses, lawyer/client privilege, no presumption of guilt from remaining silent, and representation by a military defense counsel. “These military commissions are lawful, they are fair, and they are necessary,” Bush said.
The act will allow the commissions to try those accused with masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the attack on the USS Cole in a Yemeni harbor in 2000 and bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. “With our actions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans: We will find you and we will bring you to justice,” the president said.
DoD officials said motions under the new bill may be heard as early as January. Trials probably will not start much before the summer, officials said.
The majority of the 440 detainees held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detainee facility in Cuba will not face military commissions. Only detainees who will be charged with law-of-war violations and other grave offenses – about 75, officials estimated – will be subject to the commissions.
Military commissions have a long history in the United States. The colonies used military commissions during the Revolutionary War. The U.S. military used them during the Civil War and during World War II.