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Bush defends tribunals, saying 'we're at war'

Bush: "We must not let foreign enemies use the forms of liberty to destroy liberty itself."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush bluntly defended the use of military tribunals to try non-U.S. citizens accused of terrorism on Thursday, insisting "we must not let foreign enemies use the forms of liberty to destroy liberty itself."

"If I determine that it is in the national security interests of our great land to try by military commissions those who make war on America, then we will do so," Bush said in a speech to federal prosecutors.

The president recently signed an executive order permitting the tribunals, which would allow speedy, secret trials by a military panel, not a civilian jury. The prospect of tribunals, used in the Revolutionary War and following the slaying of President Abraham Lincoln, has generated considerable criticism due to a perceived decrease in defendants' rights and explicit lack of government accountability.

Bush himself will decide on a "case-by-case" basis about which suspects should face such tribunals, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

The United States and its coalition allies, Bush said, have arrested more than 350 members of al Qaeda -- the group, headed by Osama bin Laden, accused of planning and executing the September 11 terrorist attacks -- and other terrorists.

Should the government offer immigration assistance in exchange for information about suspected terrorists?

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For Winfield, Alabama, the death of CIA operative Mike Spann brought the realities of war in Afghanistan home. CNN's Martin Savidge reports (November 29)

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The Pentagon vows to keep up the pressure on the Taliban and their leadership. CNN's Jamie Mcintyre reports (November 29)

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Latest developments

• U.S. warplanes pounded Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Thursday, with Pashtun opposition leader Hamad Karzai saying that anti-Taliban forces remained on the outskirts of the city, the Taliban's lone remaining stronghold. (Full story)

• The Northern Alliance's deputy defense minister told CNN that the alliance had not undertaken any offensive action against the city of Kandahar. Sources inside Kandahar said the mood in the city was tense, after an Afghan man suspected of using global positioning equipment to aid the United States was hanged in the city's main square.

• More than 50 U.S. Army troops from the 10th Mountain Division have been deployed to an airfield near Bagram, Afghanistan, to provide security so that the airfield may be used in the future for military operations, Pentagon officials told CNN Thursday.

• A U.S. soldier stationed in Uzbekistan died from a gunshot wound, but not because of "enemy action," the Defense Department said Thursday. Officials said the cause of the weapon's discharge was "under investigation."

• The Northern Alliance's top delegate to a conference on Afghanistan's future in Bonn, Germany, said his group would not oppose an international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan while a transitional government is being set up. (Full story)

• The Justice Department identified an "anti-abortion warrior" and escaped convict as a chief suspect of sending hundreds of letters to abortion clinics, falsely claiming to contain anthrax.

• U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Thursday a new plan to crack down on terrorism, offering immigration assistance to encourage foreign nationals living in the United States or abroad to come forward with information about suspected terrorists. (Full story)

• More than 4,500 sailors and Marines in the USS Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group are preparing for a weekend deployment to the Arabian Sea in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to a statement from the U.S. Third Fleet.

• The Northern Alliance claims it captured Ahmed Omar Abdel Rahman, an associate of Osama bin Laden's whose father is imprisoned in the United States for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the U.S. Central Command said Thursday.

• Police arrested three people and were seeking a fourth in connection with a crackdown on an al Qaeda cell in Italy, authorities said Thursday. The suspects are part of a logistical cell that provided weapons, explosives, and false documents to al Qaeda terrorists, authorities said. (Full story)


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