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Gonzales: Gitmo ruling 'hampered' war on terror
U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales spoke about the high court ruling from Cairo, Egypt on Saturday.



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Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba)
War on terror
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- The Supreme Court decision that ruled against the Bush administration's plan to try suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay prison has "hampered our ability" to deal with terrorists, the U.S. attorney general said Saturday.

Under the 5-3 court ruling, the Bush administration must adopt a military system for trying suspected terrorists consistent with international standards -- or release the suspects from military custody.

"What this decision has done is, it's hampered our ability to move forward with a tool which we had hoped would be available to the president of the United States in dealing with terrorists," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told CNN.

The administration had planned to try suspects in military tribunals as "enemy combatants." They would not be eligible for the rights, as established by the Geneva Conventions, guaranteed to prisoners of war.

"We are currently evaluating the writings of the Supreme Court," Gonzales said, and "we are going to be working closely with Congress to look at legislation."

The administration is "hopeful that we will have the ability to try people through military commissions," he added.

Gonzales emphasized that the court ruling didn't say "that we could not continue to hold enemy combatants indefinitely for the duration of hostilities, which was something the Supreme Court said we could do..." The prison was established in early 2002.

"That path is still available to us. The president of the United States can continue to hold enemy combatants at Guantanamo. But we are looking at ways to provide as many tools as possible to the president of the United States in dealing with terrorists," he added.

The attorney general was in Cairo, Egypt, where he met with his counterparts on cooperation over law enforcement issues.

Saying that many people detained at Guantanamo Bay have been freed and returned to their homes, Gonzales said the United States has "no great desire to hold people forever and we don't intend to hold people forever."

Asked about the court's conclusion that the administration's system doesn't meet the basic requirements guaranteed by the Geneva Convention on rights of prisoners of war, Gonzales said that the White House needs to study the issue before it responds.

"I will say that from the outset the president has said that people detained by the military are going to be treated consistent with the principle of the Geneva Convention subject to military necessity."

Gonzales questioned the adequacy of a court-martial, as opposed to tribunal, in trying Osama bin Laden.

Under a court-martial, Gonzales said, bin Laden would "receive the same sort of procedures and protections that we afford members of our military" if he were captured.

"I don't know if that's the right approach quite frankly."

Gonzales also questioned whether a terrorism suspect should always be prosecuted in the U.S. criminal justice system, he said.

"Sometimes that is not the right approach. Sometimes it makes sense to either continue to detain them or to look at other avenues to bring them to justice."

The Guantanamo case was a major test of President Bush's authority as commander-in-chief in a wartime setting. Bush has aggressively asserted the power of the government to capture, detain and prosecute suspected terrorists in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Most Gitmo prisoners were captured in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still battling remnants of the Taliban, the Islamic movement that harbored al Qaeda when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

At the center of the Supreme Court ruling Thursday was a Yemeni man, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, accused of being associated with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He has admitted being a personal assistant, bodyguard, and driver to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, say officials.

He is accused of conspiracy, which his lawyers say is not an internationally approved charge. His lawyers argued that Bush exceeded his authority by setting up military commissions that don't give terrorist suspects full protection of military law. (Details)

Gonzales also weighed in on news reports of a Treasury Department program of collecting international banking records to try to track the flow of money to terrorists.

Discussing stories on highly classified programs, he said, "I would hope that... we could sit down with those responsible journalists and persuade them that it would harm our country if the story were to be published."

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