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Bush signs anti torture legislation
Yahoo News/Reuters
By Tabassum Zakaria
December 31, 2005

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Friday signed legislation extending key provisions of the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act until February 3 and a bill that bans cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, despite initial resistance to both measures.

The United States has been criticized for its handling of prisoners after the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, harsh interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and reports of secret CIA prisons overseas for terrorism suspects.

The provision on the treatment of detainees was included in a defense spending bill. Bush had initially threatened to veto legislation that contained that measure, but backed off after congressional votes showed overwhelming support for the amendment pushed by Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), an Arizona Republican who was a former prisoner of war in the Vietnam conflict.

"U.S. law and policy already prohibit torture," Bush said in a statement. "Our policy has also been not to use cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, at home or abroad.

"This legislation now makes that a matter of statute for practices abroad."

In a concession to the White House, the bill curbs the ability of inmates at Guantanamo to challenge their detention in federal court.

"I also appreciate the legislation's elimination of the hundreds of claims brought by terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that challenge many different aspects of their detention and that are now pending in our courts," Bush said.

On the Patriot Act, Bush had strongly pushed for a permanent renewal, but Congress passed a temporary extension to allow more time to consider civil liberties protections.

RESPONSE TO SEPT 11 ATTACKS

The Patriot Act was a response to the September 11 attacks and expanded the authority of the federal government to conduct secret searches, obtain private records and intercept telephone calls, among other activities, to track down suspected terror cells.

"Our law enforcement community needs this, he's not satisfied with a one-month extension. But we've got to get that in place, and we've got to work with them to get it permanently re-extended," said White House spokesman Trent Duffy.

The debate over whether some of the provisions infringe too much on civil liberties became more heated after the revelation that Bush authorized the National Security Agency to conduct a domestic eavesdropping operation on Americans with suspected ties to terrorism without seeking court approval.

Among the civil protections being debated in Congress are rules for "roving" wiretaps of suspects who use multiple telephones and court orders for records for businesses, libraries, bookstores and personal medical records.

The Patriot Act extension and defense spending legislation were among several bills signed into law by Bush while on vacation at his Texas ranch.

The $453.3 billion defense spending bill included $50 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan until Congress acts on another emergency war supplemental next year, which lawmakers expect to be between $80 billion and $100 billion.

The defense spending bill also provides $29 billion to rebuild levees, schools, roads and other infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

And it contains nearly $3.8 billion to begin preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic.

Bush also signed into law legislation authorizing space exploration programs for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and a spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Commentary:
Absurdity Alert: The US already had anti torture laws and torture is forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. What good will another law do? Bush will break the new law as fast as he broke the old ones.