Five suspected al-Qaida terrorists, including one accused of killing a U.S. Special Forces medic, are the latest Guantanamo Bay detainees headed for the kind of military trials that now face a Supreme Court review.
The high court agreed Monday to consider a constitutional challenge to military trials for foreign terror suspects. The justices will decide whether President Bush overstepped his authority with plans for a military trial for Osama bin Laden’s former driver, who is also being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
His trial — and those of three other terror suspects who were charged more than a year ago — would be the first such tribunals since World War II. The five newly charged suspects, who have been held in the U.S. detention center in Cuba since 2002, will also have a stake in the Supreme Court hearing.
Meanwhile, key members of Congress are pushing for a ban on torture and other inhumane treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. The White House has threatened to veto the defense spending bill if the ban is included.
“America’s image throughout the world is very bad,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war in Vietnam. “Mistreatment of prisoners is one of the factors that has caused us to suffer so much in the eyes of the world.” Besides being cruel and inhumane, McCain said Tuesday on CBS’ “The Early Show,” “torture doesn’t work.”
The five suspects charged Monday embody the military’s most daunting challenge: the use of homemade roadside bombs — or improvised explosive devices — that are the No. 1 killer of troops in Iraq.
Toronto-born Omar Khadr was charged with murder, attempted murder, aiding the enemy and conspiracy, for allegedly tossing a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan, planting mines to target U.S. convoys, and gathering surveillance.
The other four — Ghassan Abdullah al Sharbi and Jabran Said bin al Qahtani of Saudi Arabia; Sufyian Barhoumi of Algeria; and Binyam Ahmed Muhammad of Ethiopia — were charged with conspiracy.
Barhoumi allegedly was an al-Qaida explosives trainer who taught al Qahtani and al Sharbi how to build remote-detonation explosive devices. And al Qahtani allegedly wrote two instruction manuals on how to build timing devices for roadside bombs. Muhammad was allegedly trained to build dirty bombs and was planning terror attacks against high-rise apartment buildings in the United States.
Their prospects for a full trial are now in the hands of the Supreme Court — a troubling development for the White House, which has been battered by criticism of its treatment of detainees and was rebuked by the high court last year for holding enemy combatants in legal limbo.
Bush: We don't torture
The court’s announcement came shortly after Bush, asked about reports of secret U.S. prisons in Eastern Europe for terrorism suspects, declared anew that his administration does not torture anyone.
“There’s an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again,” Bush said during a news conference in Panama City, Panama, with President Martin Torrijos. “So you bet we will aggressively pursue them, but we will do so under the law.”
“Anything we do to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture,” he said.
Chief Justice John Roberts took himself out of the case because, as a judge on the court that considered the appeal, he supported the government’s position.
The Bush administration had urged the high court to stay on the sidelines until after the trials, arguing that national security was at stake. “The military proceedings involve enforcement of the laws of war against an enemy force targeting civilians for mass death,” Solicitor General Paul Clement wrote in a filing.
The case the court will decide involves Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was captured in Afghanistan in November 2001. He denies conspiring to engage in acts of terrorism and denies he was a member of al-Qaida. He has been charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, murder and terrorism.
There are about 500 detainees being held at Guantanamo.