Signing the Bill, Mr Bush described it as a “vital tool” in the fight against terrorism, but civil liberty campaigners said that it would allow prisoners to be held indefinitely and sentenced to death on evidence beaten out of them.
Officially the Military Commissions Act protects detainees from blatant abuses during questioning such as rape, torture and “cruel and inhuman” treatment, but it does not require that any of them be granted legal counsel. Mr Bush said that it was “fair, lawful and necessary”.
In signing the Bill, which comes just three weeks before mid-term congressional elections, the President has underlined his party’s efforts to keep the fight against terrorism at the centre of the political battleground. The legislation is opposed by many Democrats, who say that it eliminates fundamental American rights.
Religious groups staged a protest outside the White House as the Bill was being signed. Protesters shouted “Bush is the terrorist” and “Torture is a crime”. Those who refused to move were arrested by police.