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Letters to the 107th Congress

February 19, 2002

Honorable Arlen Specter
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Specter:

As you know, the American Bar Association recently adopted two policies, which I have enclosed, concerning the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11 and their aftermath. The first is a general resolution that supports the call of the President to bring to justice the perpetrators of global terrorism and those who harbor the terrorists or give them aid. The second, relating specifically to military tribunals, sets forth procedural guidelines that support the President's stated goal of ensuring fairness and due process in the trials of those alleged to be terrorists.

We commend your leadership in introducing legislation to set forth minimum requirements for the trial and sentencing of captured terrorists by military tribunals. We agree with you that the Congress should exercise its constitutional role and assist the President in ensuring that any military tribunal impaneled provide the accused with trials which accord with minimal standards of due process and within accepted international norms of fundamental fairness.

Key provisions of your bill, S. 1937, the Military Commission Procedures Act of 2002, mirror recommendations of our policy, including reliance on procedures already established under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Also important are the bill's provisions regarding presumption of innocence, burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and representation by competent counsel.

In several important areas, however, we believe the legislation could be further improved. For example, questions remain about the jurisdiction of the tribunals, the specific composition of the commissions, and the range of penalties that should apply. We also want to emphasize the need for an explicit provision that the proceedings be open to the public and press, with exceptions made in cases involving classified information.

We would be pleased to work with you and your staff on this important issue.


Robert E. Hirshon
President, American Bar Association

107th Congress Letters Home

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