WASHINGTON (AP) – A day after a landmark Supreme Court ruling, the White House said Friday the prison at Guantanamo Bay will remain open until the United States deals with the terror suspects being held there.

President Bush had said he wants to close the detention center but was waiting for a Supreme Court decision about his plan to put some Guantanamo detainees on trial before military commissions. The high court, in a major rebuke to Bush on Thursday, said his plan was unconstitutional because the commissions were not authorized by Congress and violated international law.

The administration now is looking to Congress to give the president authority to deal with suspected terror detainees.

That way forward could be long and difficult. Congress will negotiate a highly technical legal road – one fraught with political implications in an election year – under the scrutiny of the international community that has condemned the continued use of the Guantanamo prison.

The ruling does little to clear up the immediate future of the 450 prisoners at Guantanamo since most have never been charged with crimes and may never go to trial. Bush has been urged by European leaders to close the Guantanamo facility.

“You’ll close it when you’re finished handling all the cases of people who are at Guantanamo,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said on Air Force One, accompanying Bush to Memphis, Tenn. “As we’ve said many times, you don’t simply shut it down. There are some people who you do not want on American soil.”

Snow said that some countries do not want to take their own citizens who are being held at Guantanamo. Snow said that at a European Union summit earlier this month, some leaders said they might be willing to work with the United States on that problem.

“I’m not sure exactly what that means,” Snow said, “but that’s something that we may consider in the future.”

Within hours of the high court’s ruling, Bush said he would work with Congress to fix the problem. Still, Bush vowed that the result “won’t cause killers to be put out on the street.”

Congress’ options include everything from legalizing the administration’s proposed military tribunals to using the U.S. court system or enacting laws that, as Justice John Paul Stevens recommended, use military courts-martial as a template.

Stevens, writing for the court in the 5-3 ruling, said the Bush administration lacked the authority to take the “extraordinary measure” of scheduling special military trials for inmates, in which defendants have fewer legal protections than in civilian U.S. courts.

Nothing in the ruling suggests shutting down the facility or challenges Bush’s authority to detain enemy combatants.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would introduce legislation after the July 4 recess that would authorize military commissions and appropriate due process procedures. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., introduced a bill Thursday that did essentially that.

“To keep America safe in the war on terror, I believe we should try terrorists only before military commissions, not in our civilian courts,” Frist said.

Sen. John McCain said Friday that, with the Supreme Court ruling guiding the way, “we can now get this system unstuck.”

“I’m confident that we can come up with a framework that guarantees we comply with the court’s order but at the same time none of the bad people are set free,” McCain, R-Ariz., told NBC’s “Today” show.

The court ruling focused on Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a one-time driver for Osama bin Laden who has spent four years at Guantanamo Bay. He faces a single count of conspiring to commit terrorism.

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, Hamdan’s Navy lawyer, said he told the Yemeni about the ruling by telephone. “I think he was awe-struck that the court would rule for him, and give a little man like him an equal chance. Where he’s from, that is not true,” Swift said.

Human rights groups endorsed proposals to use the courts-martial proceedings, saying it is a fairer proceeding. But military officials say changing the procedures to mimic courts-martial – which are largely similar to U.S. court proceedings – would bring problems.

Katherine Newell Bierman, counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, said courts-martial provide the basic fair trial guarantees that are lacking in the proposed military tribunals.

In the tribunals, she said, the accused have less access to the evidence against them, particularly if it is considered classified. Courts-martial, she said, have rules about how to deal with classified evidence, and they also have more stringent rules about prohibiting evidence that was acquired unlawfully, such as through duress or forced confessions.

Curt Goering, deputy executive director of Amnesty International, said any new rules should specify that evidence obtained under pressure should not be admissible.

“In light of the long years people have spent there, and the physical and mental abuses that have been perpetrated, and the legal limbo they’ve been subjected to for so long, they should really scrupulously respect international standards that have been developed for trials,” he said.

Military officials, however, have said that using courts-martial could handcuff their ability to prosecute suspected terrorists because of the need to protect classified information.

Of the 450 detainees being held, 10 have been charged with crimes and four more have had charges prepared against them but were never formally charged or arraigned.



On the Net:

Supreme Court: www.supremecourtus.gov/

AP-ES-06-30-06 1215EDT


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