October 5, 2005

Senate Republicans defy Bush

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans, defying President
George W. Bush, said on Wednesday they expected the Senate to
support imposing standards on the Pentagon's treatment of
military detainees in the wake of abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib
prison and elsewhere.

The Senate was to vote later in the day on bipartisan
amendments to regulate the Pentagon's interrogations and
treatment of prisoners and detainees.

The Republican administration said the measures would tie
its hands in fighting terrorism and threatened to veto a $440
billion bill to fund the Pentagon if it contained them.

"I believe that we have a comfortable majority," Arizona
Republican Sen. John McCain told reporters. McCain, a prisoner
of war in Vietnam, pushed amendments backed by Democrats and a
number of Republicans to establish the U.S. Army field manual
as the standard for interrogations and to prohibit cruel and
inhumane treatment of prisoners.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham offered an
amendment to clarify the legal status of enemy combatants held
at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay facility and increase congressional
oversight of their detention and release.

While McCain said both measures should pass the Senate
easily, he said he was concerned the detainee regulations could
be weakened or stripped from the bill when a final version is
worked out in a conference with the House of Representatives.

"That's why we're going to have to keep the pressure on
from the American people -- men and women in the military --
and, frankly, keep the exposure on the issue that's necessary
for it to pass," McCain said.

A number of lawmakers have said the incidents of horrific
abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and reported
mistreatment of prisoners in other Pentagon facilities stemmed
from the administration's own murky policies.

The Pentagon has blamed the Abu Ghraib abuses on a few
rogue soldiers and has produced reports from several of its own
investigations that showed no wrong-doing at top levels.


McCain and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John
Warner, a Virginia Republican who backed the measures, said the
White House views them as an intrusion on its authority.

But they said the measures only codify what the
administration largely claims to be its current policies
against inhumane treatment of detainees.

They also said imposing the regulations would go a long way
toward repairing the damage to the United States' image from
the devastating photographs of sexual and physical abuse of
detainees at Abu Ghraib, and would help protect U.S. soldiers
who may be captured in the future from such treatment.

At White House urging, Senate Republican leaders in July
withdrew a separate bill authorizing defense policies when it
became clear the detainee amendments would pass.

McCain said the administration's position has softened
somewhat, and it appeared interested in working out a
compromise on the language to avoid a showdown on the must-pass
defense spending bill, which also contains $50 billion in
emergency funds for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"They've been trying to work things out. They haven't, but
they've been trying," McCain said.

Democrats, who have been pushing for an independent
commission to investigate Pentagon prison abuses, backed the
Republican measures.

"The administration should not point the finger of blame at
our troops for the logical consequences of muddled and often
contradictory policy," said Senate Democratic Whip Richard
Durbin of Illinois.

Democrats also blasted Republicans for blocking a closed
briefing on Iraq for senators from both parties by U.S.
intelligence chief John Negroponte, and said Congress was
entitled to know whether Bush had plans to stabilize Iraq and
lead to the drawdown of U.S. troops there.

"We're on a verge of a civil war in Iraq, if not already a
low-grade civil war," said Joseph Biden of Delaware, top Senate
Foreign Relations Committee Democrat.

"And the president ... doesn't seem to have put forward any
regional policy as to how this will not escalate into something
considerably more dangerous."