WASHINGTON – Two Senate Republicans said Thursday that senior Bush administration officials had agreed to back legislation that would prosecute terrorism suspects under a court system based on the Pentagon's Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Sens. John McCain and John Warner cited recent meetings with Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, and other top administration officials.
"At that time, I was under the impression that that was the administration's position," McCain said of his meetings with the White House. "I hope that hadn't changed."
Publicly, the administration continued to insist that Congress legalize the Pentagon-established military commissions that were struck down by the Supreme Court two weeks ago.
"It is our sincere hope that within a relatively short period of time we can have some legislation from Congress that will allow military commissions to go forward," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters.
Administration officials told lawmakers in hearings earlier this week that using the Uniform Code of Military Justice would grant terrorists too many freedoms and would be impractical on the battlefield.
Warner, a Virginia Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said he was "somewhat perplexed" by this week's testimony by administration figures and said he hoped to set the record straight.
"But, in due course, we'll work that out," Warner said.
Warner and McCain, R-Ariz., made their remarks at the beginning of a committee hearing on detainee policies. Testifying were several active and retired judge advocates general; the administration was not represented.
National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones, traveling in Germany with Bush, confirmed that Hadley had met with McCain and Graham and said Hadley would continue to talk with Congress to create a process to bring terrorists to justice. He refused to discuss the conversations.
"What seems to have developed this week is a lot of people are agreeing with the president that a straight UCMJ approach is incompatible with the war on terror and that we need to work together to craft a system that works. We have been having many discussions with members of Congress as we work through these issues."
Warner said he believes the administration needs time to smooth over "some honest differences of opinions" and will propose legislation soon after senior officials return from the G8 summit this month. It is "absolutely imperative" Congress pass legislation before adjourning this year, he said.
"The eyes of the world are upon us and we must set the standards," Warner said.
The judge advocate generals said that Congress should not ratify the military tribunals, as the administration had suggested, because that would not be an appropriate response to the Supreme Court ruling. The ruling determined that detainees should be protected under the Geneva Conventions.
McCain, who last year led the charge to ban abuse of military detainees, said America's image was suffering because of the nation's treatment of its war prisoners.
"We will have more wars and there will be Americans who will be taken captive. If we somehow carve out exceptions to treaties to which we are signatories, then it will make it very easy for enemies to do the same to American prisoners," he said.