WASHINGTON - Trials for detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been delayed because of numerous challenges by their own lawyers, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday in defending the Bush administration's treatment of terror suspects.
A leading human-rights attorney called the attorney general's comments "a convoluted view of the world."
Gonzales, meeting with Associated Press reporters and editors, said that the trials of terror detainees may begin as early as this summer and that rules for military commissions in carrying them out would be sent to Capitol Hill this week.
But he acknowledged the delays, of up to five years in some cases, in deciding the legal fate of detainees being held at the military facility in Cuba.
"It's not for lack of trying," Gonzales said. "We are challenged every step of the way."
"A lot will depend on the courts and the legal challenges brought by detainees at Guantanamo," he said. "But we are trying as hard as we can to bring these individuals to justice."
The Bush administration has been widely criticized for its detention of about 395 men at Guantanamo, some without being officially charged, on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The government has characterized the detainees as enemy combatants who should have fewer legal protections than civilians in U.S. courts.
Military officials say 60 to 80 detainees will be charged and brought to trial. Eighty-five other men have been cleared for release or transfer to other countries.
In October, President Bush signed a law authorizing military trials and harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects. Defense lawyers have challenged the validity of the law and have raised the possibility that the military trials will be struck down by a federal appeals court or the Supreme Court.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, called Gonzales' remarks "a convoluted view of the world."
"We've been trying for five years to get the majority of the detainees in federal court," Ratner said. "They've resisted from the first day, when they took people to Guantanamo."
The Guantanamo issue was one of several topics during the hour-long AP interview that had Gonzales on the defensive over Bush administration policies criticized by Democrats and civil libertarians as overstepping legal boundaries.
Little-known but recently revealed powers authorizing the Pentagon to examine banking records of Americans suspected of terrorism or espionage. Congress authorized such investigations decades ago, and recently affirmed them in the USA Patriot Act, but some lawmakers question whether it is an improper expansion of the Defense Department's domestic role.
"If Congress gives them the authority," Gonzales said, "I think they probably ought to be exercising that authority in connection with national security investigations."