Obama war court decision backed by key GOP senator

McClatchy NewspapersMay 15, 2009 

WASHINGTON — South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham praised President Barack Obama's decision to maintain a system of military tribunals for some detainees, saying it reflects the standards he originally advocated.

Graham, a military lawyer who's served on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he's had three conversations with Obama since December about detainee issues, along with more frequent contacts with senior administration and military officials.

"We've got a chance to start over and do what I wanted to do seven years ago," Graham said. "That is, to create a hybrid system that will . . . make sure that every detainee has robust due process, but that every case is reviewed from a national security perspective."

In 2006, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which Graham helped craft, after the Supreme Court ruled that President George W. Bush had exceeded his constitutional authority in creating tribunals without lawmakers' approval.

Obama's overhaul of the commissions include banning admission of statements obtained using harsh interrogation techniques and shifting from defendants to military prosecutors the need to prove that hearsay evidence should be admitted.

Obama issued an executive order in January directing the Pentagon to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year, with detainees "returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility."

Graham opposes transferring Guantanamo detainees to the Naval Consolidated Brig in North Charleston, S.C., which the Pentagon has tabbed as a possible destination, along with the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and others.

He said, however, that some of the detainees will likely have to be transferred to the U.S. after Guantanamo's closure.

"I believe we can bring these people into the United States safely," Graham said. "If we're going to ask other (countries) to take some of these folks, we have to take some of them, too."

Graham's stance puts him at odds with lawmakers from his party who support the Keep Terrorists Out of America Act, which Ohio Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, introduced last week. The bill, which would require governors and legislatures to approve detainee transfers to their states, has 103 co-sponsors.

Graham separated the 240 detainees at Guantanamo into three groups:

_ Those who can be sent to their native countries without U.S. fear that they'd later "return to the battlefield"

_ "High value" detainees — such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — to be tried before the military commissions

_ Detainees held as "enemy combatants," whom the government deems too dangerous to release, but can't try because of insufficient evidence to convict them

Graham said the enemy combatants at Guantanamo, whom Defense Secretary Robert Gates last month said number 50 to 100, pose the biggest challenge because they have "de facto life sentences" in an ongoing "war on terror."

Graham said these and other detainees shouldn't be moved until a comprehensive military commissions system is in place.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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