Thursday, December 15, 2005
WASHINGTON - After months of resistance, the White House has agreed to accept Sen. John McCain’s call for a law specifically banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror, several congressional officials said Thursday.
The congressional officials spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they did not want to pre-empt an expected announcement later in the day at the White House, possibly by President Bush and McCain.
These officials also cautioned the agreement was encountering opposition in the House from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
The White House at one point threatened a veto if the ban was included in legislation sent to his desk, and Vice President Dick Cheney made an unusual personal appeal to all Republican senators to give an exemption to the CIA.
But congressional sentiment was overwhelmingly in favor of the ban, and McCain, who was held and tortured for five years in Vietnam, adopted the issue.
Weeks of negotiations
He and the administration have been negotiating for weeks in search of a compromise, but it became increasingly clear that he, not the administration, had the votes in Congress.
McCain’s original amendment would have prohibited “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone in U.S. government custody, regardless of where they are held. It also would have required that service members follow procedures in the Army Field Manual during interrogations of prisoners in Defense Department facilities.
In discussions with the White House, that was altered to bring it into conformity with the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could have concluded they were following a lawful order.