WASHINGTON – President Bush said Thursday he will follow the Supreme Court's decision on Guantanamo Bay detainees, but refused to call the ruling a setback.
Instead, he speculated that Congress would take action to prosecute terror detainees plucked from the Afghan battlefield. Shortly afterward, congressional members said they would do just that.
"As I understand it ... there is a way forward with military tribunals in working with the United States Congress. As I understand it, certain senators have already been out expressing their desire to address what the Supreme Court found, and we will work with the Congress. I want to find a way forward," Bush said during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
"The American people need to know that this ruling, as I understand it, won't cause killers to be put out on the street. ... I was told that this was not going to be the case," Bush added.
In Thursday's ruling, the Supreme Court delivered a blow to the Bush administration's anti-terror policies when it ruled that the president cannot order military war-crimes trials for some Guantanamo detainees.
The court said proposed military tribunals are illegal under U.S. law and Geneva Conventions, a ruling that rejected Bush administration arguments that detainees were not prisoners of war, and therefore, not eligible for treatment under the Geneva agreement. The case focused on Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni national who worked as a bodyguard and driver for Usama bin Laden. Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the 5-3 decision.
Some Republican lawmakers pledged immediately to begin working on a legislative solution to the problem posed by the court's decision.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced he would introduce a bill after the July Fourth recess that "authorizes military commissions and appropriate due process procedures for trials of terrorist combatants." In his statement, he added that he believed civilian courts were inappropriate for the terror suspects' cases.
That is also the opinion of Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham, of South Carolina, and Jon Kyl, of Arizona. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter announced pursuit of a separate plan.
Long before the court's decision, the president had been already under fire, even from some U.S. allies, about the prison camp at Guantanamo. The European Union's foreign minister called the prison camp an aberration, because it didn't fit with the usual Western guarantees of civil liberties.
Bush has defended the camp, saying he'd like to close it, but was waiting for the Supreme Court to rule whether the inmates there are due civilian or military trials. His aides have held intensive talks over the past few days, trying to anticipate how the high court might rule and how they might respond.
One senior official told FOX News that administration lawyers had been "intensely gaming out" what the possible rulings might mean, and that the court's decision in no way means that the Guantanamo prison camp is "closing tomorrow." Officials added that Bush is renewing a push to get other countries to take back detainees and others court trial options.
"This ruling now sets a number of things into action," an official said.
The Pentagon had no official comment shortly after the ruling. Spokesman Bryan Whitman dodged questions, saying department lawyers are going through the ruling with Justice Department counsel.
Whitman, however, did say Guantanamo serves as an important detention and intelligence gathering facility.
"These are dangerous people. Many have vowed to go back to the battlefield if released," Whitman said, referring to the detainees. About 450 detainees still are being held at the prison, which was opened in January 2002.
State Department spokesman Adam Ereli also refused to address the Supreme Court decision directly, but rejected the suggestion that it will affect the speed with which Guantanamo detainees will be transferred back to their home countries.
"I don't want to make that link," Ereli said. "We want to transfer as many as we can as quickly as we can, but the constraint really is negotiating effective agreements with countries that receive them."
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the ruling does not bottle up the administration's plans, but rather points it toward working with Congress.
"I don’t think it weakens the president's hand, and it certainly doesn't change the way in which we move as aggressively as possible to try to cut off terrorists before they can strike again," Snow told reporters during an afternoon briefing.
"What the Supreme Court has not said — it has not said you can't hold them, it hasn't said you can't try them, it hasn't said you have to send them back," Snow said.
Speaking out on the ruling, several administration opponents praised the court's decision.
"The Supreme Court's decision concerning military commissions at Guantanamo Bay is a major rebuke to an administration that has too often disregarded the rule of law. It is a testament to our system of government that the Supreme Court has stood up against this overreaching by the executive branch," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said in a statement.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement saying that the ruling is a slap at the administration, which she argued has been "disregarding international law."
"Since 9/11, the Bush administration has operated in the 'fog of law' — expanding executive branch power, ignoring the will of Congress, bypassing courts, and disregarding international law," Harman said. "Today's Supreme Court decision will help lift that fog. The opinion makes clear that the president's power is not unlimited when it comes to holding people without due process."
Harman said the time has come to "close the Guantanamo prison and either return the prisoners to their home countries or bring them to justice in the United States." She also called on Congress to establish new guidelines for terrorist detentions, "determining who may be detained, under what rules, and how those individuals should be brought to justice."
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., talking to reporters on Capitol Hill, said the administration may begin a greater push to move the detainees back to their home countries.
"I'm sure we will look at other means to provide them [prisoners] justice under our laws and international laws," he said. But he added, "Do not misinterpret the decision as the key to free everybody and their release tomorrow."
In a joint statement, Kyl and Graham, a reserve judge to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, called it inappropriate to try terrorists in civilian courts and said they would look for legislative solutions to try detainees in military commissions.
"We intend to pursue legislation in the Senate granting the executive branch the authority to ensure that terrorists can be tried by competent military commissions. Working together, Congress and the administration can draft a fair, suitable, and constitutionally permissible tribunal statute," they said.
Warner said that Frist has asked his Armed Services Committee to work on the detainee issue, which would likely include efforts by Graham, Kyl and others.
In a separate measure, Specter introduced a bill on the Senate floor Thursday that would set up a procedure to handle detainees charged with offenses with a military commission comprised of three commissioners and a judge. Specter's bill, based on 2002 legislation he introduced with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also would regularly examine the cases of detainees held indefinitely.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Democrats are willing to work with the administration on creating a plan for detainees.
"Every senator — Democratic senator — has been waiting for the administration to approach us to set up a procedure to handle these difficult cases. The Supreme Court says there is a way to do that ... we stand ready and willing to do that," Reid said.
Snow said the administration is considering a number of possible options, but did not comment on any proposals. He said it's going to take some time before the administration fully wraps its arms around the ruling, which called "complex."
Administration officials speaking in an afternoon conference call indicated that a possible work-around could rest in changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which currently is at odds with the administration's treatment of the Hamdan case.
"Under the court's decision, Congress could look at procedures for courts martial and look at practicalities for the current conflict," one official said.
Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, told FOX News that he believed the Senate Judiciary Committee was going to move quickly to deal with the ruling, but he also said that the prison camp has been an international black eye.
"Guantanamo has become a major public relations problem for us, for the United States," Voinovich said. Many allies have said, "you guys got to do something about that," he added.
"I think the main thing right now is to make sure that none of these people get out of there that ... are sources of information for us and people that we know have killed Americans and other people," Voinovich said.
But House Majority Leader John Boehner said the prison has helped keep the American people safe.
"I think that this effort of detaining those involved in these wars at Guantanamo has been very, very helpful in terms of our national security," Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., argued that the ruling is a victory for civil rights.
"As we approach the Fourth of July, it is entirely appropriate that the Supreme Court has reminded the president and (Defense) Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld that there is no excuse for ignoring the rule of law, even when our country is at war," Kennedy said.
FOX News' Bret Baier, Molly Hooper, Megyn Kendall, Ian McCaleb, Liza Porteus and Greg Simmons contributed to this report.