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A landmark bill for trying and questioning terror suspects has passed the Senate by a vote of 65-34 a day after a similar bill passed in the House. A final version of the bill could be ready for the president to sign within a few days. Earlier today, President Bush's allies narrowly defeated a Senate amendment aimed at preserving the right of all detainees to challenge their imprisonment in federal courts.
Coming up, we're going to go through the bill's key provisions. First, NPR's David Welna reports on the debate at the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA: The day began with President Bush rallying his troops here at the Capitol. The president met with Republican senators behind closed doors, then came out and made his case to the nation for this bill drafted by Republican leaders and the White House.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Our most important responsibility is to protect the American people from further attack, and we cannot be able to tell the American people we're doing our full job unless we have the tools necessary to do so. And this legislation passed in the House yesterday is a part of making sure that we do have the capacity to protect you.
WELNA: A short time later on the Senate floor, Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd rose to remind colleagues that 60 years ago this week, the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals reached its first verdict. Dodd noted the U.S. had insisted on following the rule of law then as an example to other nations.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): We've been known as the nation of Nuremberg. My fear is now we'll be known as the nation of Guantanamo. And I worry about that.
WELNA: That brought this response from John Warner, the Republican Chair of the Armed Services Committee.
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): That was a war of state sponsored nations and aggressions. Men wearing uniforms. Men acting at the direction of recognized governments. Today's war is a desperate bunch of terrorists coming overnight, no uniforms, no principles, guided by nothing. And we are doing the best we can as a nation under the direction of our president to defend ourselves.
Senator DODD: I don't disagree. But I don't think there's a choice between upholding the principles of American jurisprudence and fighting terrorism. Every generation of Americans will face its own threats. This is ours. Every previous generation faced serious threats. They did not abandon the principles upon which this country was founded. I'm fearful we're about to do that today.
Senator WARNER: Well, Mr. President, I disagree with my good friend.
WELNA: At issue was whether the constitutional right to habeas corpus would be restored to the bill. As it is, the legislation strips detainees of that right to challenge their detention in court. Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy asked whether his colleagues had forgotten their oath to uphold and defend the constitution.
Senator PATRICK LEAHY (Democrat, Vermont): What in heaven's name has happened to the conscience and the moral compass of this great nation? Are we so terrified, are we so terrified of some terrorists around this country that we will run scared, scared and hide? Is that what we do that will tear down all the structures of liberty in this country?
WELNA: South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the military, replied that it should be up to the armed forces, not the courts, to determine who's an enemy combatant.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): My moral compass is very much intact and when people mention moral compasses and the conscience of the Senate, I'm going to sleep very good casting my vote and I think I've got a decent moral compass about what we should be doing to people, what's humane, what's not, what's right, what's wrong.
WELNA: Congress is drawing up detainee legislation because the Supreme Court threw out the Bush administration's plan for detainee trials in June. Arlen Specter, the Republican Chair of the Judiciary Committee who sponsored the habeas corpus amendment, warned the Senate that this plan, too, was headed for trouble.
Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): Surely as we are standing here if this bill is passed and habeas corpus is stricken, we'll be on this floor again rewriting the law.
WELNA: The Senate rejected Specter's amendment 51 to 48. Three other Republicans joined all but one of the Senate Democrats in backing that amendment. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein said afterwards that like the pre-election vote four years ago on the Iraq war resolution, this vote was timed for scoring political points less than six weeks before crucial midterm elections.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): I think Republicans have decided that they're going to find a way to say that Democrats are soft on terror and they're going to use a no vote on this bill to do so.
WELNA: The bill will likely reach the president's desk this week.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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