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Future for Terrorism Suspects Depends on Congress

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

In Washington, one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in years has now led to discussions in Congress. At issue is the power of the president, even at a time of war.

The decision came June twenty-ninth in a case called Hamdan versus Rumsfeld -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Salim Ahmed Hamdan is a Yemeni held at the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He is charged as a former driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaida.

Salim Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan after the American invasion in two thousand one. The military action followed the al-Qaida attacks that killed almost three thousand people in the United States on September eleventh. Congress, in a joint resolution, gave President Bush the power to react with "all necessary and appropriate force."

The case decided by the Supreme Court involved the rights of captured terrorism suspects. The court ruled that the Bush administration could not set policy for them without approval by Congress.

President Bush says he will work with Congress "to find a way forward." He said he would like for there to be a way to return people from Guantanamo to their home countries. But, he added, "some of them need to be tried in our courts."

The Supreme Court voted five to three in its decision. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority opinion. The court found that the president's plan to hold trials before military commissions violates international law and has no basis in federal law.

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that denying the president the right to hold military trials would limit his ability to fight terrorism. Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito also wrote dissenting opinions. Chief Justice John Roberts did not take part in the case.

The decision also means the president alone cannot declare that terrorism suspects lack protection under the Geneva Conventions. Those are the international agreements that govern the treatment of prisoners of war.

The administration declared the suspects illegal enemy combatants and not prisoners of war. This week, however, the Defense Department made public a July seventh memo signed by Deputy Secretary Gordon England.

The memo said prisoners taken in the conflict against al-Qaida are included under Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. Article Three bans “violence to life and person” in the treatment of prisoners.

In another development, there was news that the president has conditionally agreed to let a court rule on another program. That one involves listening to the international calls and reading the e-mails of people in the United States when suspected terrorists are involved.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written this week by Jerilyn Watson. Transcripts and archives are at I'm Steve Ember.