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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush Relents on Detainee Policy, Backing McCain's Proposal - New York Times

Bush Relents on Detainee Policy, Backing McCain's Proposal - New York TimesDecember 15, 2005
Bush Relents on Detainee Policy, Backing McCain's Proposal
By BRIAN KNOWLTON

International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - The White House, after weeks of resistance, agreed today to Senator John McCain's call for a law specifically banning cruel or inhuman treatment of terror suspects anywhere in the world.

Mr. McCain met with President Bush at the White House this afternoon, and an announcement of a deal followed.

Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that White House and Congressional negotiators were poised to reconcile two goals, "treating people humanely and at same time maintaining an effective intelligence-gathering system."

"We think we're going to be successful," he said in remarks broadcast on CNN. "We think we're about ready to do something that's good for the country." Mr. Hunter's comments appeared particularly significant because he had reportedly opposed earlier language under discussion.

It was the second time in less than 24 hours that Congressional concerns about torture - and the damage to America's image wrought by allegations of secret C.I.A. detentions and interrogations - had overwhelmed an administration intent on keeping an array of tools to wage a difficult, high-stakes battle against terrorism.

Late Wednesday, in a rare bipartisan rebuke to the administration, the House of Representatives voted, 308 to 122, to endorse a measure by Mr. McCain to bar cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody anywhere in the world.

That vote was nonbinding. But with 107 Republican legislators joining Democrats in support of the measure - introduced by Representative John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who recently made a high-profile call for an early withdrawal from Iraq - it doubtless added to the pressure on the White House.

The Arizona senator's political clout - he was a presidential candidate in 2000 - and his past as a former naval aviator who was tortured in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, have given his determined stance against torture particular resonance in Congress.

While details of the agreement remained uncertain, it appeared that the tremendous global outcry over allegations of secret prisoner transfers and interrogations, and its increasingly powerful echoes in Congress, had succeeded in bending the administration to compromise.

The agreement also appeared likely to give greater legal foundation to remarks made earlier this month in Europe by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who faced enormous pressure over allegations of secret C.I.A. detention camps and transfers.

She said that the United States would not take part in torture on its own territory or overseas. But her seemingly carefully crafted comments during that trip gave rise to sharp debate over whether they left any loopholes.

Mr. McCain has met repeatedly in recent weeks with the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, to negotiate a solution to the tensions over torture.

A key sticking point has been whether an agreement would equally cover all branches of government - including the military, the C.I.A., and also government contractors.

Vice President Dick Cheney had made an unusual appeal to Republican senators to provide an exemption for the C.I.A. The White House even threatened to veto the sweeping military-spending bill to which the Senate version of Mr. McCain's amendment was attached. The House version omitted those provisions from its version of the $453 billion spending bill.

Mr. McCain's language proved difficult for lawmakers to oppose, particularly at a time when opinion polls show that torture and detainee issues have seriously eroded the United States image abroad.

Reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, and allegations of misconduct by troops at the United States detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had fueled the push for more precise ban on torture.

Throughout the debate, the White House has insisted that the United States does not engage in torture.

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