MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The Senate was in knots today over the subject of war-related intelligence and how it's collected. On the floor, senators debated and then defeated a bid by Democrats to have an independent commission look into detainee abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. But the Senate still supports a previously adopted measure that would explicitly ban prisoner mistreatment.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
While all this was going on, there was a closed-door meeting about the misuse of intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. And Republican leaders are talking about an investigation into a leak about secret CIA prisons, a leak made to The Washington Post. NPR's David Welna is at the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA reporting:
Senate Democrats argued a Republican-run Congress and a series of Pentagon probes have failed to get to the bottom of why prisoners held by the US have been abused and sometimes even killed. Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy said the truth can only be found by appointing a 9-11-type outside commission.
Senator EDWARD KENNEDY (Democrat, Massachusetts): American officials abused prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. And now we learn the CIA maintains secret prisons in Eastern Europe, where Vice President Cheney unapologetically hopes to permit torture as a permanent part of American policy.
WELNA: But such arguments failed to move Senate Republicans. Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner said the Senate has already acted by twice approving an amendment sponsored by Arizona Republican John McCain. It would ban all US officials and private contractors from tormenting prisoners.
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia; Chair, Armed Services Committee): This is a bipartisan call to the best instincts of our American character. I call on the Senate to use that powerful statement of American values, not another commission.
WELNA: But the fate of McCain's anti-torture amendment remains uncertain beyond the Senate. Vice President Cheney wants the CIA exempted from its provisions, and the White House has threatened to veto any bill it's attached to. Despite those pressures and even though the House has not passed a similar ban on torture, Alaska Republican Ted Stevens says he has no intention of stripping the McCain amendment from a huge defense spending bill when it's merged with the House version.
Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska): It's--it'll have to stay in it, yes. I don't know yet what the final position will be in the House, but the Senate's position, it should stay in this.
WELNA: What about the exemption that Vice President Cheney is seeking for...
Sen. STEVENS: That has not been salable as far as anyone's concerned so far.
WELNA: Meanwhile, GOP leaders in both the House and Senate today circulated a letter calling on their intelligence committees to find out who told The Washington Post that the CIA is operating covert prisons in Eastern Europe. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he's open to pursuing such a probe.
Senator PAT ROBERTS (Republican, Kansas; Chair, Intelligence Committee): If, in fact, it's a national security matter, where we have people leaking things that are highly classified, why, obviously we have a problem.
WELNA: Democratic Leader Harry Reid dismissed the leak to The Post issue as grandstanding. Reid said it was much more important for Intelligence Committee Chair Roberts to finish the long-delayed probe into how administration officials used intelligence to make their case for invading Iraq.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): We know that Senator Roberts hasn't moved on this for a number of reasons. But the most glaring reason is that the vice president has not given him permission to go ahead with the investigation that he committed to.
WELNA: Reid forced renewed interest in that use of intelligence probe last week by forcing the Senate into a closed session. A six-member, bipartisan panel of senators that was appointed then met today for the first time behind closed doors. Republicans called the meeting `frank'; Democrats called it `frustrating.' Republicans on the Senate floor accused Democrats of undermining the morale of US troops. Democrats responded that the best way to protect US troops is to eliminate the practice of torture, lest it be used against them should they be taken prisoner. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.