December 18, 2005

House nears vote on bill with torture ban

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives aimed
to vote on Sunday or early on Monday on a bill that would ban
torture of detainees in U.S. custody, but let evidence gleaned
by coercion be used against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

The torture ban represents a congressional rebuke of
President George W. Bush, who resisted the measure pushed by
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in response to a scandal
over the abuse of detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib
prison in Iraq, reports the CIA has run secret prisons abroad,
and harsh interrogations at U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay,

The defense policy bill with the detainee measures is to go
to the Senate for final passage as early as on Monday before
being sent to Bush. Lawmakers planned to work through the night
to finish their business for the year.

Human rights advocates, who were elated when Bush relented
on McCain's amendment after months of opposition, said another
measure in the defense bill would undermine its protections for
the roughly 500 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo.

That amendment, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Sen.
Lindsey Graham, would limit Guantanamo inmates' access to
federal courts and allow some evidence obtained by coercion to
be used against them.

Graham said the amendment would require a review if there
were allegations of coercion, and said a person found to have
used force banned under the McCain amendment to get information
could be prosecuted.

Rights groups said it marked the first time a law would
effectively permit use of evidence obtained by torture.


McCain's amendment bars cruel, inhumane or degrading
treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, and requires that
interrogations adhere to standards set by the Army manual.

In negotiations with the White House, McCain agreed to
extend to CIA interrogators the military defense standard of
whether a reasonable person would find they were following a
lawful order.

The White House had wanted more sweeping protections
against prosecution of CIA interrogators, and Vice President
Dick Cheney had pressed to exclude the CIA from the measure.

Cheney in an interview with ABC News' "Nightline" said he
backed legislation to ban inhumane treatment of prisoners, but
criticized what he saw as a diminishing commitment by some to
do "what's necessary" to defend the country.

"One of the things I'm concerned about is that as we get
farther and farther away from 9/11, and there have been no
further attacks against the United States, there seems to be
less and less concern about doing what's necessary in order to
defend the country," Cheney said.

The defense policy bill also puts Congress on record saying
that 2006 should be a time of "significant transition" toward
full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi forces taking the lead for
security and creating conditions for a phased U.S troop

The Senate approved that resolution overwhelmingly in
November in a move that escalated calls for Bush to present a
plan to end the war.

The defense policy bill was sidetracked for a day after
House Republican leaders tried to add unrelated campaign
finance legislation to it. They dropped that, clearing the bill
for passage.

House Republican leaders also hoped for a vote by Monday on
a $453.5 billion bill to fund the Pentagon that includes $50
billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The Pentagon funding bill then would face final passage in
the Senate, where Democrats and some Republicans are
threatening to block it over a provision to allow oil drilling
in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Lawmakers said the
must-pass war-time spending bill eventually will reach Bush's