McCain, White House Reach Deal on Torture Ban
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
President Bush and Republican Senator John McCain have struck a deal that will ban the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of military detainees. The announcement came after months of administration resistance. The policy comes in the form of an amendment to a defense spending bill. NPR's Brian Naylor has the story.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
McCain's amendment banning torture was approved by the Senate in October, 90-to-9, and just last night the House added its weight, overwhelmingly approving a non-binding resolution of support. With the bipartisan backing of both chambers, McCain held all the cards and today the administration recognized that fact. President Bush invited McCain to the White House and the two appeared together in the Oval Office.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Senator McCain has been a leader to make sure that the United States of America upholds the values of America as we fight and win this war on terror. And we've been happy to work with him to achieve a common objective, and that is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international Convention of Torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.
NAYLOR: McCain spoke next.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): We've sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them. But what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are. And I think that this will help us enormously in winning the war for the hearts and minds of people throughout the world.
NAYLOR: The administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, long resisted McCain's amendment, fearing it would hinder efforts by interrogators to extract information from military detainees picked up in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. National security adviser Stephen Hadley conducted numerous negotiating sessions with McCain, the most recent occurring yesterday morning. The White House hoped to exempt CIA interrogators from the ban, but McCain refused. Under the deal reached today, CIA interrogators would have the same legal rights as military interrogators accused of breaking the rules, allowing them to argue they were obeying a legal order. Later, in the White House driveway, McCain was asked if his amendment ties the hands of the CIA. He said no, and added...
Sen. McCAIN: I am sure that is still a concern that many have, including some in the Congress, but they are a minority on both sides of the Capitol.
NAYLOR: McCain's amendment stemmed from the revelations about the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison and from allegations of mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo and at secret US-run facilities elsewhere. As an ex-POW who himself was tortured, McCain's argument carried a lot of moral weight with lawmakers from both parties. California Democrat Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says interrogation is important to obtain information on possible terrorist plots but, she says, torture frequently leads to bad information and she applauds today's agreement.
Representative JANE HARMAN (Democrat, California): What we get from this agreement on the McCain legislation is tools to teach interrogators how to interrogate best. And why that is good is that they will then be empowered to do their best job rather than risk-averse, worrying about whether they're going to be pilloried for doing the wrong thing.
NAYLOR: Not everyone in Congress shares Harman's enthusiasm. Some conservative lawmakers, such as Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas, oppose the amendment because they say torture is already against the law. Gohmert called the measure stupid. And the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, California Republican Duncan Hunter, also has reservations, but opponents do not figure to block the measure now that it has the backing of the president. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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