House endorses Senate-passed ban on mistreating terror suspects |

House endorses Senate-passed ban on mistreating terror suspects

WASHINGTON – In a symbolic move, the House endorsed a Senate-passed ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign terrorism suspects Wednesday after an up-and-down day of negotiations that one aide said produced signs an agreement with the White House may be near.Approved 308-122, the procedural vote in the House puts political pressure on negotiators – but does not require them – to include the ban and another provision standardizing interrogation techniques used by U.S. troops in a final wartime military spending bill.With both chambers of Congress controlled by Republicans, the House endorsement of the provisions further embarrasses the Bush administration, which months ago threatened to veto legislation containing such language.The vote in the House followed a morning meeting on Capitol Hill between Sen. John McCain, the chief sponsor of the provisions, and President Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, in which the two sides failed to reach a compromise that would satisfy administration concerns. Members of the House and Senate also worked toward an agreement throughout the day.Late Wednesday, a senior Senate GOP aide, who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of negotiations with the House, said: “We are mere millimeters from the finish line.”Earlier, Hadley had told The Associated Press “At this point, discussions are ongoing,” and McCain had said: “We’re still talking.””We’ll get this resolved one way or another,” McCain, R-Ariz., said.Progress on any compromise was thrown into question when the House took up the nonbinding effort by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., that put it on record supporting McCain’s provisions. Endorsing the provisions were 200 Democrats, 107 Republicans and one independent.”We cannot torture and still retain the moral high ground,” Murtha, the senior Democrat on the House appropriations defense panel, said. “There can be no waiver to the use for torture. No torture and no exceptions.”Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., the chairman of that panel, said the United States does not torture but that it’s “important that we make it very clear that we are opposed to torture – period.” However, he said he was offended because the provisions would give terrorists too many protections.Human-rights groups praised the House endorsement. “The House and Senate have now spoken loud and clear, with a single message – the United States will not permit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” said Elisa Massimino, the Washington director of Human Rights First.For months, House Republican leaders had delayed appointing negotiators for the defense spending bill in part to avoid a House vote on the McCain provisions. Leaders had been waiting for the result of negotiations between the White House and McCain.Congressional aides cautioned that a vote did not signal a deal between the administration and the senator, and several said negotiations were continuing.”We hope that a reasonable agreement on this issue will be reached,” Young said.McCain’s provisions have stalled two defense bills in Congress, including the must-pass $453 billion wartime spending measure. Congress is under pressure to approve the spending bill before adjourning for the year because it includes $50 billion for the Iraq war.The administration fears the McCain provisions could limit the president’s ability to stop a terrorist attack, and it has been seeking to add language that would offer some protection from prosecution for interrogators accused of violating the provision.But the senator has rejected that. Instead, he has offered to include language similar to that in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It would allow accused civilian interrogators – like military interrogators – to defend themselves if a reasonable person could have found they were following a lawful order about treatment of detainees.Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, expressed confidence that McCain and Hadley would “reach consensus.””The goal is the same here,” Hughes said on CBS’ “The Early Show.” “The goal is to make it very clear that the United States is a nation of laws and that we operate our detainee policy within our laws, within our international obligations and without torture.”The Senate overwhelmingly approved McCain’s provisions, but they were not in the defense bills approved by the House.After initially threatening a veto and trying to kill the provisions, the White House then switched gears to lobby for an exemption to the ban for CIA interrogators. But McCain balked at that.The former prisoner of war in Vietnam says he won’t agree to changes that would undermine the provisions, which he argues are needed to clarify current anti-torture laws in light of abuses at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and allegations of misconduct by U.S. troops at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.Potentially complicating the issue is that the Pentagon is struggling to complete an Army field manual that defines humane treatment for detainees and details specific interrogation techniques that can or cannot be used.The most specific interrogation guidelines – for example, how long detainees can be forced to sit or stand in certain positions – are included in a classified section of the document, which is being reviewed by Pentagon officials.Vail, Colorado

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