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U.S. House nears vote on bill with torture ban

December 19, 2005

U.S. House nears vote on bill with torture ban

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives aimed to vote on Sunday or early on Monday on a bill that would ban torture of detainees in U.S. custody, but let evidence gleaned by coercion be used against prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. 

The torture ban represents a congressional rebuke of President George W. Bush, who resisted the measure pushed by Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain 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 at U.S. facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 

The defense policy bill with the detainee measures is to go to the Senate for final passage as early as on Monday before being sent to Bush. Lawmakers planned to work through the night to finish their business for the year. 

Human rights advocates, who were elated when Bush relented on McCain's amendment after months of opposition, said another measure in the defense bill would undermine its protections for the roughly 500 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo. 

That amendment, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, would limit Guantanamo inmates' access to federal courts and allow some evidence obtained by coercion to be used against them. 

Graham said the amendment would require a review if there were allegations of coercion, and said a person found to have used force banned under the McCain amendment to get information could be prosecuted. 

Rights groups said it marked the first time a law would effectively permit use of evidence obtained by torture. 

CRUEL, INHUMANE TREATMENT BANNED 

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

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

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

Cheney in an interview 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 troop withdrawal. 

The Senate approved that resolution overwhelmingly in November in a move that escalated calls for Bush to present a plan to end the war. 

The defense policy bill was sidetracked for a day after House Republican leaders tried to add unrelated campaign finance legislation to it. They dropped that, clearing the bill for passage. 

House Republican leaders also hoped for a vote by Monday on a $453.5 billion bill to fund the Pentagon that includes $50 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

The Pentagon funding bill then would face final passage in the Senate, where Democrats and some Republicans are threatening to block it over a provision to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Lawmakers said the must-pass war-time spending bill eventually will reach Bush's desk. 

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