WASHINGTON – The White House is expected to unveil as early as next week a proposal on the legal handling of detainees after weeks of negotiations with Congress and meeting with military lawyers.
The recommendations, likely to be described by senior administration officials during a Senate hearing, would lay out a plan for prosecuting terror suspects detained by the military.
Still under discussion this week is whether the White House will agree with GOP senators to base a new effort on the military's court-martial system, which would afford terror suspects certain rights, or to champion legislation that would authorize the Pentagon's more stringent existing tribunal system.
The administration has been wrangling with the issue of detainees' legal rights since a June 29 ruling by the Supreme Court, which determined the military tribunals established by the Pentagon to prosecute the prisoners requires authorization by Congress.
The administration had previously maintained that the president's executive authority allowed him to establish the tribunals without Congress' permission. President Bush also asserted that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to terror suspects because they were not conventional prisoners of war.
Sen. John Warner, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said he had wanted to convene a hearing this week on the matter, but was urged by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to hold off until the administration could interview military lawyers and formulate a solid proposal. Warner met with Gonzales Tuesday in what he referred to as ongoing discussions.
Warner, R-Va., said he was hopeful the administration would lay out next week "the framework of legislative proposals they have in mind."
Warner and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have met frequently with administration officials in recent days to discuss detainee legislation. At issue during the discussions have been the legal rights that military detainees would have.
The senators have said they would support establishing a system based on the military's own court-martial practices and had been told the White House would support such a move. But senior officials from the Pentagon and Justice Department testified earlier this month that the Uniform Code of Military Justice would be too lenient on terror suspects and could expose classified information.
The senators have said they are confident an accord can be reached.
Warner said Tuesday he would convene briefings throughout August when Congress is in recess if necessary so that legislation could be passed this fall.