WASHINGTON , DC – Congressman Ike Skelton (D-MO), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced that he would have to reserve final judgment on the Military Commissions Manual expected to be released today, but that he would closely scrutinize the Administration’s framework for prosecuting detainees in U.S. custody to make sure that it could withstand court challenges.

“Let no one doubt that our ultimate objective is to establish a system that will swiftly try and convict those individuals who have committed terrorist attacks against the American people or our brave men and women in uniform.  But, as a former prosecuting attorney, I hope that the Administration got the rules and procedures for prosecuting these detainees right and has not run afoul of our Constitution,” said Skelton. 

During congressional consideration of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which requires the drafting of the Military Commissions Manual, Chairman Skelton repeatedly warned that the Administration’s proposals were subject to court challenge in numerous ways, including in the use of coerced testimony by the prosecution and the defendant’s restricted ability to confront witnesses and cross-examine evidence.

“The right rules will help ensure that commissions produce solid convictions that can withstand the scrutiny of the courts.  I have not yet seen evidence that the process by which these rules were built or their substance addresses all the questions left open by the legislation.  This committee will fulfill its oversight responsibility to make sure this is the case,” said Skelton.

Pursuant to the Military Commissions Act, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Attorney General, is responsible for promulgating procedures and rules of evidence for the Military Commissions which will try “unlawful enemy combatants” in U.S. custody.  The Secretary and his staff have drafted a voluminous Military Commissions Manual which reportedly is based in large part on the Manual for Courts Martial.  The Military Commissions Manual should include pretrial, trial, and post-trial procedures, including discovery rules, and cover some sentencing guidelines.