WASHINGTON – The Bush administration's deal with Senate Republicans over detainee treatment drew protests Monday from former diplomats, lawyers and a GOP committee chairman.
They oppose a provision that would strip federal courts of jurisdiction over cases in which detainees have not been charged with war crimes.
Leading the charge was Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who is planning an effort to delete that provision from the bill, expected to be considered in both the Senate and the House this week.
Specter refused to commit to voting for the bill should his amendment fail.
"I want to see how it shapes up," he said during an appearance at the National Press Club. "I don't make commitments to the president on how I'm going to vote."
It was unclear even to Specter whether he had the support from 60 senators required to bring up such an amendment or whether Democrats might be able to block the underlying legislation, an accord struck last week between the White House and a trio of Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans on what to do with prisoners detained in the War on Terror.
The legislation would set up a court system to prosecute suspected terrorists, a response to a Supreme Court ruling in June that the president needed Congress' blessing to do so. Drawing protests is a provision that would bar detainees from challenging their detentions in court, the right to habeas corpus afforded defendants in military and civilian legal proceedings.
Specter made clear Monday that the deal on detainees, struck with great fanfare by the White House and rebellious Republicans, has not cleared the Republican discord that had mired the proposal for weeks.
Judicial review of the detentions of terror suspects, he said, was needed to maintain the system's credibility in the eyes of the world. He called striking the courts' jurisdiction over such matters "inexplicable."
Specter's position was echoed by a chorus of former diplomats who wrote to senators and House members that denying detainees the ability to challenge their imprisonment would boomerang on Americans representing the United States overseas by implying that "arbitrary arrest is the acceptable norm of the day."
"To deny habeas corpus to our detainees can be seen as prescription for how the captured members of our own military, diplomatic and NGO (non-governmental organization) personnel stationed abroad may be treated," wrote 33 former diplomats. "The Congress has every duty to insure their protection."
In their own letter to members of Congress, several hundred New York lawyers and judges warned that the legislation would afford only those detainees the government is able to charge with full due process while the others, uncharged, would be denied a fair hearing.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said over the weekend that without the legislation, "we cannot have an interrogation program continue that we know has been lifesaving that has uncovered terrorist attacks against the United States."