Leahy opposes Bush military trial plan

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says he opposes President Bush’s plan to hold military trials for suspected terrorists.

Leahy supports the trials but says the president’s proposal does not recognize basic legal rights.

Leahy is backing an alternative bill sponsored by three Republican senators that includes the provisions that Leahy says are essential.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Bush is seeking legislative approval to hold military tribunals for suspected terrorists because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that it’s illegal for the president to conduct these proceedings without statutory authority.

Leahy, who’s the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary committee, says he supports the idea of using military trials in these cases but he argues that Bush’s plan fails to include several important legal rights for the terrorists.

The president wants to be able to include information gathered under “coercive interrogations” at these military trials – Leahy doesn’t:

(Leahy) “We should not set as a new standard in America that we get evidence by torture. That should not be an American standard.”

(Kinzel) The president also wants military prosecutors to be able to present classified evidence to the judge without revealing this information to the defendant. Leahy says U.S. soldiers facing military trials have a right to this kind of information and he thinks the suspected terrorists should too.

(Leahy) “The military tell me that that would create no problems for them. They can handle classified material. They do it now when you have a soldier charged with something and classified material is part of the defense.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says it’s important to pass legislation with proper legal checks and balances because the new law will set the standard for the rest of the world:

(Leahy) “The reason for doing that is that we want to be able to tell people around the world if one of our soldiers is captured or arrested that look we protect people. We want you to do the same.”

(Kinzel) The Bush plan is being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary and Armed Forces Committees. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he may try to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate next week without the specific approval of either committee.

That’s a strategy that Leahy says many Democrats and some Republicans will oppose.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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