Bush, GOP rebels agree on detainee bill
Bush, GOP rebels agree on detainee bill
By ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer 15
WASHINGTON - The White House and rebellious Senate
Republicans announced agreement Thursday on rules for
the interrogation and trial of suspects in the war on
terror. President Bush urged Congress to put it into
law before adjourning for the midterm elections.
"I'm pleased to say that this agreement preserves the
single most potent tool we have in protecting America
and foiling terrorist attacks," the president said,
shortly after administration officials and key
lawmakers announced agreement following a week of
high-profile intraparty disagreement.
Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record) of
Arizona, one of three GOP lawmakers who told Bush he
couldn't have the legislation the way he initially
asked for it, said, "The agreement that we've entered
into gives the president the tools he needs to
continue to fight the war on terror and bring these
evil people to justice."
"There's no doubt that the integrity and letter and
spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved,"
McCain said, referring to the international treaties
covering the treatment of prisoners in wartime.
The central sticking point had been a demand from
McCain, Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record) of
Virginia and Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting
record) of South Carolina that there be no attempt to
redefine U.S. obligations under the Geneva
The agreement contains key concessions by the White
House, including dropping a provision that would have
interpreted Geneva Convention obligations and another
allowing a defendant to be convicted on evidence he
never sees if it is classified. The legislation,
however, makes clear the president has the authority
to enforce the treaty.
CIA Director Michael Hayden has said the agency needed
to be confident that its interrogation program for
high-value terror suspects is legal.
"Much remains in the legislative process," he said in
a written statement to the agency personnel. But "if
this language becomes law, the Congress will have
given us the clarity and the support that we need to
move forward with a detention and interrogation
program that allows us to continue to defend the
homeland, attack al-Qaida and protect American and
Added Stephen Hadley, the president's national
security adviser, on CIA interrogations: "The good
news is the program will go forward."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (news, bio, voting record),
R-Calif., who opposed such a measure, indicated he was
not satisfied with the piece on classified
information: "We're going to look at it closely. And
we have some recommendations with respect to
Hadley said the bar would be "very high" and that
classified information would not be automatically
shared with terrorists.
"Our view is we think it's a good approach because the
likelihood of that occurring would be very remote,"
Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, said he wouldn't consider the agreement
sealed until Bush signed on.
That happened within an hour, when the president
stepped before microphones in Orlando, Fla., where he
was campaigning for Republican candidates in the fall.
The agreement "clears the way to do what the American
people expect us to do to capture terrorists, to
detain terrorists, to question terrorists and then to
try them," he said.
The accord was sealed in a 90-minute session in the
office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who had
earlier in the day told Warner, McCain and Graham it
was time to close the deal. The four lawmakers were
joined by Hadley, as well as other administration
officials, for the final session.
If it survives scrutiny, the accord would fulfill a
Republican political and legislative imperative
pre-election party unity on an issue related to the
war on terror, and possible enactment of one of Bush's
top remaining priorities of the year.
The evident compromise came less than a week after
Bush emphatically warned lawmakers at a news
conference he would shut down the interrogation of
terror suspects unless legislation was sent to his
desk. "Time's running out," he said.
The White House shifted its tone from combative to
compromising within 48 hours, though, and officials
began talking of a need for an agreement that all
sides would be comfortable with.
Whatever the outcome, the controversy has handed
critics of the president's conduct of the war on
terror election-year ammunition.
Bush's former secretary of state,
Colin Powell, dismayed the administration when he
sided with Warner, McCain and Graham. He said Bush's
plan, which would have formally changed the U.S. view
of the Geneva Conventions on rules of warfare, would
cause the world "to doubt the moral basis" of the
fight against terror and "put our own troops at risk."
The handling of suspects is one of two administration
priorities relating to the war on terror.
The other involves the president's request for
legislation to explicitly allow wiretapping without a
court warrant on international calls and e-mails
between suspected terrorists in the United States and
abroad. One official said Republicans had narrowed
their differences with the White House over that
issue, as well, and hoped for an agreement soon.
Republican leaders have said they intend to adjourn
Congress by the end of the month to give lawmakers
time to campaign for re-election.
The Supreme Court ruled in June that Bush's plan for
trying terrorism suspects before military tribunals
violated the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law.
The court, in a 5-3 ruling, found that Congress had
not given Bush the authority to create the special
type of military trial and that the president did not
provide a valid reason for the new system. The
justices also said the proposed trials did not provide
for minimum legal protections under international law.
About 450 terrorism suspects, most of them captured in
Afghanistan and none of them in the U.S., are being
held by military authorities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Ten have been charged with crimes.