WASHINGTON – The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday he has a problem with the Republican agreement on rules for the interrogation and trial of suspects in the War on Terror.
President Bush is pushing Congress to put the agreement into law before adjourning for the midterm elections, but Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said Sunday he "vigorously" disagrees with the habeas corpus provision of the bill.
The provision would allow legal counsel and a day in court to only those detainees selected by the Pentagon for prosecution. Other terror suspects could be held indefinitely without a hearing.
"The courts have traditionally been open to make sure that individual rights are protected, and that is fundamental," Specter said on a cable news network. "And the Constitution says when you can suspend the writ of habeas corpus, in time of rebellion or invasion. And we don't have either. So that has to be changed, in my opinion."
Specter scheduled a hearing on the issue for Monday. Otherwise, he said, most of the legislation is a "big improvement" over what Bush originally proposed.
The White House was forced to make concessions by a group of Senate Republicans who objected to the harsh treatment that would be allowed against detainees. The Bush administration agreed to drop one provision narrowly interpreting international standards of prisoner treatment and another allowing defendants to be convicted on evidence they never see.
The bill lists acts that would constitute war crimes, including torture, rape, biological experiments and cruel and inhuman treatment. White House officials said these provisions would provide the CIA the clarity it needs to continue with the interrogation of its most valued suspects.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Sunday he expected the bill would pass before Congress adjourns.
"It's very important, because right now these detainees that we have down in Guantanamo Bay right now, we can't even try them now," Frist said on a Sunday news show." "Right now, unless we pass this bill, we cannot have an interrogation program continue that we know has been lifesaving that has uncovered terrorist attacks against the United States."