WASHINGTON Attorney General Michael Mukasey wants Congress to help figure out how to give Guantanamo Bay terror detainees their day in U.S. civilian courts.
A Supreme Court ruling last month "stopped well short" of detailing how foreign suspects will be allowed to challenge their detention, Mukasey said in draft excerpts of a speech he was to deliver Monday morning.
"In other words, the Supreme Court left many significant questions open," Mukasey said in the excerpts that were obtained by The Associated Press.
He called it "well within the historic role and competence of Congress and the executive branch to attempt to resolve them." Mukasey was speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think-tank.
At issue is the June 12 ruling that struck down a provision of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that denied Guantanamo detainees the right to file petitions of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is a centuries-old legal principle, enshrined in the Constitution, that allows courts to determine whether a prisoner is being held illegally.
As a result, about 200 detainee cases are now being reviewed in U.S. District Court in Washington, where judges have said they want to set rules governing the detainees' hearings by year's end.
Mukasey, however, wants lawmakers and not federal district judges to set the rules. It's unclear at best whether Congress could act by then, and any new laws setting such standards likely would be snarled in appeals for years.
Among the issues to be sorted out is how civilian judges might be allowed to review evidence against the prisoners. The Justice Department has fought for years to limit judicial review of evidence in these cases.
Mukasey noted that the Supreme Court acknowledged the hearings "could raise serious national security issues."
"The court recognized, and with good reason, that certain accommodations must be made to reduce the burden habeas corpus proceedings will place on the military and to protect sources and methods of intelligence gathering," Mukasey said.
Roughly 265 men remain at the prison at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. Most are classed as enemy combatants and held on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
The prison has been harshly criticized at home and abroad for the detentions themselves and the aggressive interrogations that were conducted there.