After Court rebuke on Gitmo, Bush tries new tactic

After a Supreme Court decision overruling war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees, President Bush suggested Thursday he would seek Congress’ approval to proceed with trying terrorism suspects before military tribunals.

“To the extent that there is latitude to work with the Congress to determine whether or not the military tribunals will be an avenue in which to give people their day in court, we will do so,” he said. “The American people need to know that the ruling, as I understand it, won’t cause killers to be put out on the street.”

Bush said little more, saying he had received only a “drive-by briefing” on the ruling just out earlier Thursday morning.

The Supreme Court decided that Bush’s proposed trials for certain detainees at the controversial U.S. prison in Cuba were illegal under U.S. law and international Geneva conventions. A separate opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, appeared to invite Bush to go to Congress to seek the authority to change that, and Bush’s short answer indicated that is his intention.

The president declined to say whether the decision would prompt him to more quickly follow through on his promise to close the prison, as many world leaders and human rights groups have urged.

“We will seriously look at the findings,” Bush said. “And one thing I’m not going to do, though, is I’m not going to jeopardize the safety of the American people. People got to understand that. I understand we’re in a war on terror, that these people were picked up off of a battlefield, and I will protect the people and at the same time conform with the findings of the Supreme Court.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said later that Bush still wants to close the Guantanamo Bay facility once the administration can determine what to do with the prisoners, and he said the Supreme Court decision does not affect that.

“This will not mean closing down Guantanamo Bay,” Snow said. “There is nothing in this opinion that dictates closing down Guantanamo Bay. We’re studying very careful what other implications there may be.”

Bush also warned North Korea not to test-fire a long-range missile, saying Pyongyang must tell the world its intentions for any launch.

“Launching the missile is unacceptable,” Bush said in the East Room news conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Bush said that he and the Japanese leader discussed concerns about what is loaded onto the missile and where North Korea intends to aim it. He asked the North Koreas to make their plans more clear.

“There have been no briefings as to what’s on top of the missile. He hasn’t told anybody where the missile’s going,” the president said in a reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. “He has an obligation, it seems like to me and to the prime minister, that there be a full briefing to those of us who are concerned about this issue as to what his intentions are.”

Said Koizumi, through a translator: “Should they launch a missile, that will cause various _ we would apply various pressures. … I believe it is best that I do not discuss what specific pressures we were talking about.”

Bush said the situation with Pyongyang presents an opportunity to increase global cooperation on missile defense systems.

“The Japanese cannot afford to be held hostage to rockets. And neither can the United States or any other body that loves freedom,” the president said. “And so one really interesting opportunity is to share and cooperate on missile defenses.”

© 2006 The Associated Press