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Senate adds ban on torture to bill
The Seattle Times
By Joseph L. Galloway and James Kuhnhenn
Knight Ridder Newspapers
October 6, 2005

WASHINGTON — The Senate delivered a rebuke to the Bush administration last night, adding language banning U.S. torture of military prisoners to a $440 billion military-spending bill in defiance of a White House threat to veto the whole bill if the anti-torture language were attached.

The Republican-majority Senate followed the lead of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voting 90-9 to add the anti-torture language to the legislation. Both of Washington state's Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, voted for the measure.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired Army general, joined 28 other retired senior military officers in endorsing the McCain-Graham amendment.

The measure would ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of any prisoner in the hands of the United States. It's a response to the revelations of torture by U.S. personnel of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, which roused worldwide disgust.

McCain, who was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors during the Vietnam War, cited a letter written to him recently by Army Capt. Ian Fishback asking Congress to do justice to military personnel.

"Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for," Fishback wrote the senator.

"We owe it to them," McCain said on the Senate floor. "We threw out the rules that our soldiers had trained on and replaced them with a confusing and constantly changing array of standards."

Graham, a former judge advocate in the Air National Guard, said: "We take this moral high ground to make sure that if our people fall into enemy hands, we'll have the moral force to say, 'You have got to treat them right.' If you don't practice what you preach, nobody listens."

Also pending is an amendment by Graham that would distinguish between a "lawful enemy combatant" and an "unlawful enemy combatant." His proposal would put into law the procedures for prosecuting such combatants at the Navy's Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba.

Even if the Senate passes the spending bill with the anti-torture language included, both face an uncertain future. The House has passed a similar bill without anti-torture language.

Before any legislation could go to President Bush, negotiators from the House and Senate must iron out a single version in a conference committee. The Bush administration's preferences often prevail in such committees.

Bush has never vetoed any legislation. Vetoing a big military-spending bill during wartime would be highly unusual.

McCain said his amendment merely codifies current policy and reaffirms what was assumed to be the law for years. It would require that all U.S. troops — and other federal agencies — adhere to the standards for interrogation of prisoners outlined in the Army Field Manual on detention and interrogation.

Opposition to McCain and Graham was led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the National Security Council staff and White House lobbyists. Frist ultimately voted for the amendment.

The battle on Capitol Hill came in the wake of a federal court order to the Pentagon requiring the release of more photographs of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison.

The latest photos reportedly are more disturbing than those released last year, which led to the courts-martial and the convictions of nine low-ranking enlisted Army Reserve soldiers.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company