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09 June 2005

Congressional Report, June 9: Guantanamo Detainee Hearing

House committee approves legislation calling for U.N. reform

SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE TO CONDUCT DETAINEE HEARING

The Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a hearing June 15 to determine whether hundreds of enemy combatants and suspected terrorists currently held at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere are being given adequate legal protection, the committee announced June 8.

A witness list for the hearing, set for June 15 at 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) in Washington, has not been announced.  But Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, is planning to introduce legislation to provide detainees with certain legal rights that will allow them to challenge their detention before a special federal court established under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), according to committee staff.

The act prescribes procedures for U.S. attorneys requesting a court order for electronic surveillance, like wiretaps on telephones, and physical searches of property or persons who may be engaged in espionage or international terrorism against the United States on behalf of a foreign power.  A special 11-member U.S. federal court called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court hears such requests.

FISA judges, appointed by the chief justice of the United States to seven-year terms, are selected from the seven federal circuit courts, and three of the judges must come from the immediate Washington metropolitan area.  The chief justice also appoints one member of the panel as the presiding judge of the court.

Currently, U.S. guidelines do not entitle "enemy combatants" and foreign terror suspects due process protections under federal law, although the detainees are accorded protections consistent with the Geneva Conventions.  Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross visit the detention centers routinely and forward any concerns directly to the U.S. military.

Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said, "we look forward to the hearing," because Leahy has been calling for such an inquiry for a number of months.

HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES BILL CALLING FOR U.N. REFORM

The House International Relations Committee, on June 8, approved a bill by Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde that calls for a wide range of reforms at the United Nations.

"No observer, be they passionate supporter or dismissive critic, can pretend that the current structure and operations of the U.N. represent an acceptable standard," Hyde said after introducing the bill -- the U.N. Reform Act of 2005.

The measure, which passed in the committee by a vote of 25 to 22, includes several critical proposals which would:

-- Allow the United States to withhold dues payments if the United Nations does not make a series of operational reforms.

-- Change the funding from mandatory assessments to voluntary contributions for 18 U.N. programs.

-- Create an independent oversight board, as well as establish a U.N. Office of Ethics.

-- Require detailed financial disclosures for top U.N. officials to prevent such financial conflicts of interest as were revealed in the Oil-for-Food Program investigation.

-- Prohibit membership on the Human Rights Commission for any country that is under U.N. investigation for human rights violations.

-- Require new audits, qualification standards, and a code of conduct for U.N. peacekeeping missions.

An alternative measure offered by Representative Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the committee, was defeated by a vote of 24 to 23.  It would have offered the same range of reform proposals, but would not have mandated the withholding of U.S. dues if reforms are not forthcoming.  Instead it would have given the U.S. secretary of state the authority to withhold dues.