A Secret Rewriting of Military Law



WASHINGTON - In early November 2001, with Americans still staggered by the
Sept. 11 attacks, a small group of White House officials worked in great
secrecy to devise a new system of justice for the new war they had declared
on terrorism.

Determined to deal aggressively with the terrorists they expected to
capture, the officials bypassed the federal courts and their constitutional
guarantees, giving the military the authority to detain foreign suspects
indefinitely and prosecute them in tribunals not used since World War II.

The plan was considered so sensitive that senior White House officials kept
its final details hidden from the president's national security adviser,
Condoleezza Rice, and the secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, officials
said. It was so urgent, some of those involved said, that they hardly
thought of consulting Congress.

White House officials said their use of extraordinary powers would allow
the Pentagon to collect crucial intelligence and mete out swift, unmerciful
justice. "We think it guarantees that we'll have the kind of treatment of
these individuals that we believe they deserve," said Vice President Dick
Cheney, who was a driving force behind the policy.

But three years later, not a single terrorist has been prosecuted. Of the
roughly 560 men being held at the United States naval base at Guantánamo
Bay, Cuba, only 4 have been formally charged. Preliminary hearings for
those suspects brought such a barrage of procedural challenges and public
criticism that verdicts could still be months away. And since a Supreme
Court decision in June that gave the detainees the right to challenge their
imprisonment in federal court, the Pentagon has stepped up efforts to send
home hundreds of men whom it once branded as dangerous terrorists

 


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