December 19, 2005

House passes torture ban

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives
passed final legislation on Monday to ban the torture of
detainees and voted to advance the Pentagon $50 billion for the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House passed two separate defense bills, one for
funding and one for defense policies, that contained identical
measures initially opposed by President George W. Bush
requiring humane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

But, in a concession to the White House, the bills curb the
ability of inmates at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
to challenge their detention in federal court.

Congress is pushing to complete its work for the year and
the policy bill could go to the Senate for final passage late
on Monday before being sent to Bush.

The Senate will take up the funding measure this week, with
a fight expected over an unrelated measure added to the bill to
allow oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge.

The bills also would let information gleaned by coercion to
be used against Guantanamo inmates.

"What we do is leave that up to the court if it finds that
there's coercion," said Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat
who helped worked out a compromise with the White House.

The funding bill provides $453.3 billion for defense,
including $50 billion for the wars until Congress acts on an
emergency war supplemental early next year that lawmakers said
could be between $80 billion and $100 billion.

The torture ban represents a congressional rebuke of Bush,
who resisted the measure pushed by Arizona Republican Sen. John

It was introduced 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 in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Human rights advocates were elated when Bush accepted
McCain's amendment after opposing it for months on the grounds
it would hamper intelligence-gathering in the U.S. war on


But rights advocates said the McCain amendment was partly
undercut by the measure limiting Guantanamo inmates' access to
courts and allowing use of information obtained by coercion.

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

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

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

Cheney, in an interview on Sunday 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 withdrawal.

The Senate approved that resolution overwhelmingly in
November in a move that added pressure on Bush to present a
plan to end the war.