WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats plan to revisit one of the most contentious matters of 2006: deciding what legal rights must be protected for detainees held in the war on terrorism.
In September, Congress passed a bill that gave President Bush wide latitude in interrogating and detaining captured combatants. The legislation prompted more than three months of debate -- exposing Republican fissures and prompting angry rebukes by Democrats of the administration's interrogation policies.
A group of Senate Democrats and one Republican, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, want to resurrect the bill to fix a provision they say threatens the nation's credibility on human rights issues.
Hussein is expected to remain in a US military prison until he is handed over to Iraqi authorities on the day of his execution. Hussein lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said yesterday that international law should protect Hussein from being handed over to his enemies.
The proposed revisions to the terrorism detainee bill could surface in the new Congress early in the year, staff members say -- with new sympathetic ears in leadership and a slim Democratic majority in Congress.
Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, who will take control of the Senate as majority leader next year, "would support attempts to revisit some of the most extreme elements of the bill" including language stripping detainees of habeas corpus rights, although no immediate action is planned, said a Reid spokesman, Jim Manley.
Under the law, the president can convene military commissions to prosecute terror suspects as long as he follows certain guidelines, such as granting defendants counsel and access to evidence used against them.
Specter and Patrick J. Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, say a disturbing provision left in the bill specifically prohibits a detainee from protesting his detention in court. This provision barring habeas corpus petitions means that only detainees selected for trial by the military are able to confront charges against them, leaving a vast majority of the estimated 14,000 military detainees in custody without a chance to plead their case.