MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The treatment of prisoners is also an issue on Capitol Hill. Congressional negotiators say they're close to a deal that would ban the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people in US custody. The ban comes in the form of an amendment to the defense spending bill. It's sponsored by Arizona Senator John McCain. As NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the Bush administration is trying to the modify the ban, but that effort appears to be losing ground.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
The McCain amendment was approved two months ago in the Senate by a vote of 90-to-9 and, following Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's comments today, appears to be all but certain to become law. The House has yet to vote on the provision, and it had been opposed by the chairman of the Armed Service Committee, Republican Duncan Hunter of California, but now Hunter seems to be indicating he, too, is onboard McCain's proposal.
Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): We had good discussions first on the detainee issue. Senator McCain has fairly extensive provisions, and we think--we've been working on those provisions. We think we're going to have a good outcome for all parties.
NAYLOR: Hunter went on to say he hoped to extend the ban on torture to include Iraqi troops now being trained by the US military.
Rep. HUNTER: One thing that we want to insert into this defense bill is to--is direction to our trainers who right now are standing up the Iraqi forces to ensure that their officers and enlisted personnel treat their detainees professionally and humanely.
NAYLOR: Hunter's proposal was presented to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner of Virginia. A statement released by Warner's office said there is no deal yet. While the two committee chairmen are meeting, McCain is talking with White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley. McCain was not reachable for comment.
The New York Times reports the administration has all but given up its efforts to exempt the CIA from the ban, and now hopes to get McCain to agree to make it more difficult to prosecute intelligence agents charged with violating torture standards. White House spokesman Scott McClellan would not get into specifics at his briefing today.
Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesperson): The issue here is how do we deal with terrorists that are captured on the battlefield, and there's some difficult issues relating to this. We've been working with Senator McCain. Those discussions with his office are ongoing so that we can come up with good solutions, and that's something that we've talked about at length recently.
NAYLOR: McCain has said in recent interviews that he will not compromise on the core principles of his amendment.
Meanwhile, today at a Capitol Hill briefing, William Taft, who served as legal adviser to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, gave his endorsement to McCain's proposal. Taft said the measure would reaffirm what current Secretary of State Rice said today is now US policy.
Mr. WILLIAM TAFT (Former Adviser to Colin Powell): This is, indeed, a job--the setting out of what these standards are for conducting ourselves--a job for Congress. The administration has a need for guidance in this area.
NAYLOR: McCain's amendment is part of a must-pass defense appropriations measure which provides funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which leaders of the House and Senate hope to complete action on later this month. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
NORRIS: The United States was the first country to codify the humane treatment of prisoners. You can read about how laws governing that treatment have evolved and a roundup of editorial opinions on torture at our Web site, npr.org.
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