Bush Under Pressure on Detainee Treatment
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The Bush administration is coming under increasing fire for its policies on the treatment of foreign detainees. Yesterday, five US Army Rangers were charged with assault for allegedly beating detainees in Iraq. Also yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the military tribunal that President Bush has designated for trying detainees. At the same time, Senate Democrats demanded that an independent commission look into prisoner abuse. More from NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
President Bush probably would have preferred talking up free trade during the news conference yesterday in Panama, but instead he was asked whether he agrees with Vice President Cheney that the US should exempt the CIA from any congressional ban on torture. Mr. Bush did not say yes and he did not say no.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture. And therefore we're working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it more possible to do our job.
WELNA: Four hours later on the Senate floor, New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman called it a sad day when an American president has to reassure allies in Latin America that the US does not contemplate torture. In the same vain, Bingaman pointed to recent published reports that the CIA is holding suspected terrorists in Soviet-era secret facilities in Eastern European nations.
Senator JEFF BINGAMAN (Democrat, New Mexico): This is a troublesome development considering the widespread reports that our own vice president continues to urge that bipartisan legislation passed in this Senate would prohibit the CIA from using interrogation techniques amount to cruel and inhuman treatment in these types of facilities be deleted from legislation on its way to the president.
WELNA: Arizona Republican John McCain sponsored that amendment. It's now attached to two major defense bills, and it outlaws cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for all foreigners held by US officials. Despite intense lobbying from Vice President Cheney, McCain says there's no way he'll agree to an exception to the torture ban for the CIA.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We'd be glad to continue discussion with the administration, but it's pretty clear-cut that what they want to do is carve out the CIA, and we certainly can't agree to such a thing.
WELNA: The CIA's interrogation of foreign detainees has never been investigated by Congress, neither has Congress looked into the CIA's alleged secret prisons nor its practice of so-called renditions by which detainees are turned over to foreign and often unsavory regimes. Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee's top Democrat, Michigan's Carl Levin, offered an amendment to a defense policy bill creating an independent commission to probe the abuse of foreign detainees by US officials and contractors.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): We cannot sweep this under the rug, and the investigations so far have swept critical issues under the rug, and they're going to surface sooner or later. Better to have an independent commission take a look at them, get it away from any partisanship, have a commission the way the 9-11 Commission was appointed.
WELNA: But even those Republicans who back McCain's forward-looking anti-torture amendment refuse to endorse an outside commission looking back on prisoner abuses. John Warner is the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): Move on, we must, to win this war in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Replaying these dreadful and inexcusable incidents again in public forum will likely bring no remarkable new insights or new lessons learned.
WELNA: Warner says both Congress and the Pentagon have already delved extensively into detainee abuse. For Levin, it's been insufficient. He contends Congress has actually left huge gaps in its job of oversight. Levin chalks up GOP resistance to his proposed commission to fears of alienating the president.
Sen. LEVIN: I think there's a great deal of pressure on Republicans that have come from the White House relative to Senator McCain's amendment.
WELNA: A Senate vote on Levin's proposed independent commission on detainee abuse is expected this week.
David Welna, NPR News.