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Bush Defends Tribunal Order President Believes Tribunals Necessary To Fight Terrorism

By Mike Allen

President Bush said Monday that his order allowing foreign terrorism suspects to be tried in military tribunals is “the absolute right thing to do,” despite fears expressed by both liberals and conservatives that long-cherished principles of American justice could be compromised.

Bush signed an executive order last week allowing military trials of non-citizens who are members of the al Qaida terrorist network or who are charged with aiding or committing acts of terrorism, or harboring terrorists. Such tribunals could be held in secret and could require a lower burden of proof for the government than a normal criminal proceeding. Civilians have not been subject to such trials since World War II.

“I need to have that extraordinary option at my fingertips,” Bush said after a Cabinet meeting Monday. “I ought to be able to have that option available should we ever bring one of these al Qaida members in alive. It’s our national interests, it’s our national security interests that we have a military tribunal available. It is in the interests of the safety of potential jurors that we have a military tribunal.”

Under the terms of the order, Bush will personally decide which cases should be handled by a tribunal. A senior administration official said that during several briefings on the issue, Bush was told that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had made those decisions himself, rather than delegating them to the Justice Department or the Pentagon.

“It was the president who said, ’This will be my decision,’ ” the official said, confirming a report in Newsweek. “As the president, he can take into account all the considerations -- from diplomatic to military to law enforcement to intelligence -- about whether this is the proper method of adjudicating justice.”

The official said the tribunal could be used for foreign nationals arrested both within the United States and abroad. Bush said federal officials “will do everything we can to defend the American people within the confines of our Constitution, and that’s exactly how we’re proceeding.”

“These are extraordinary times,” Bush said Monday. “I would remind those who don’t understand the decision I made that Franklin Roosevelt made the same decision in World War II. Those were extraordinary times, as well.”