By MARGARET TALEV
September 23, 2006
President Bush began asking Congress for new authority to question and try suspected terrorists after the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in June that his plan for special military tribunals violated both U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.
If it's approved by the full Senate and the House of Representatives before the end of next week, when Congress is set to recess, Thursday's agreement also could end a weeks-long intra-party rift and unite Republicans around their core national security message as they head into crucial midterm elections.
Final passage of the compromise is likely, but hurdles remain. Most Democrats and Republicans didn't yet know the terms of the agreement Thursday, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said he had some concerns about detainees gaining too much access to classified information. The White House and CIA voiced no such concerns, however.
President Bush, speaking from a Republican fund-raiser in Orlando, Fla., said the accord "preserves the . . . most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets."
CIA Director Michael Hayden told his staff in a memo that the agreement would give his operatives "the clarity and the support that we need to move forward."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of three Republican senators who forced the administration to compromise, said he was satisfied with the agreement.
"There is no doubt that the integrity and sprit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved," he said at a news conference with other senators and administration officials.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who'd joined McCain and Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., in forcing the White House to temper its original proposal, said he believed the compromise would prohibit simulated drowning, or "water-boarding" as a CIA interrogation technique.
But Graham didn't rule out other aggressive techniques such as sleep deprivation or playing loud music. He said the legislation wouldn't spell out which "alternative interrogation techniques" are permitted and which are prohibited.
Specifics were sketchy, as negotiators didn't immediately release details in writing.
As outlined by lawmakers and administration officials, the deal provides CIA interrogators with protection, retroactive to 2001, against being prosecuted as war criminals for most interrogation methods on high-value detainees.
But the administration appeared to bow to demands from McCain, Graham and Warner, who'd voiced concerns raised by dozens of current and former high ranking military and diplomatic officials, including five former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Republican Secretaries of State Colin Powell and George Shultz.
The administration had sought to more narrowly define the U.S. obligations under Common Article 3 of the international Geneva Conventions of 1949, which govern the treatment of prisoners of war. Critics said that Bush's approach could allow interrogation tactics too close to torture, invite other nations to back out of their treaty obligations and possibly lead to torture of U.S. soldiers in future wars. They also said it would damage the nation's international reputation by lowering the moral standards America observes in war.
Under the compromise, the administration would agree not to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions. Instead, the U.S. War Crimes Act would be revised to define "grave breaches" of Common Article 3, including murder, torture, biological experiments, rape and other acts.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions