MIKE PESCA, host:
President Bush and Republican senators have reached a deal on how terrorism suspects may be treated. The president backed off his plan to more narrowly define a key provision in the Geneva conventions. But the senators agreed to allow interrogators to still use some aggressive techniques.
Gary Solis teaches military law at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. He retired a year ago from teaching at West Point, where he was director of the Law of War program.
And Gary, the White House seemed satisfied with this compromise, as do senators like John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Warner. What is the biggest thing the senators gained?
Professor GARY SOLIS (Georgetown University Law Center): I think the biggest that they gained was a commitment to not try to modify Geneva Convention Common Article 3, which has of course international implications and future implications for U.S. soldiers who might be captured.
PESCA: Well, let's go through a couple of the specific compromises. It's been reported that the administration advocated allowing interrogation that allowed some pain, but it stopped at severe mental or physical pain. The senators wanted the interrogation to stop at serious physical pain.
So what lies between serious physical pain and severe physical pain? It seems like semantics, but this is the very crux of the fight, right?
Prof. SOLIS: Well, I think it is semantics. It's like trying to draw a line between torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Where does one segue into the other? I think that what's very significant is the administration has won significantly in my view on the second major issue, and that's the interrogation rules that you mentioned.
They can specify which grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions which are mentioned in the War Crimes Act maybe prosecutable. And by doing that they can effectively set the ground rules and they don't have to define where that line is, Mike, they can just say you can do this or you can't do that.
PESCA: And are there specific techniques - people focus on the technique of waterboarding, which is where you convince a person being interrogated that he's going to drown, and people have focused on that and say under this compromise, waterboarding won't be allowed. What's your analysis of that?
Prof. SOLIS: I think that's true. I think that's one of the specifics which will not be allowed. And if people knew what waterboarding was, I think they'd be horrified.
Waterboarding is actually drowning, and to the last second pulling the person out, reviving him and then again drowning them until they finally fess up. So I think that the specifying of acts which are not permissible is a valuable addition.
But the compromise that has been reached in my view clearly favors the administration. And that's also true in the secondary issue that establishes that the executive branch - that is, the president - controls Geneva Convention compliance, and so he can specify which are prosecutable offences and which are not.
PESCA: So was this more in your opinion a face-saving gesture for the Republican senators or maybe just a PR game to say that we're going to follow the Geneva Convention, but if you drill deeper you'll find that there are a lot of techniques that we're doing that maybe are beyond the pale?
Prof. SOLIS: I believe the later is true, but I also believe that it was more than face-saving, because as we've said the international commitment to Common Article 3 is very significant and certainly the Republican senators won on that, as they did, I think, on the rules for military commission procedures. I think that those overall are probably a win for McCain and company.
PESCA: Gary Solis is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. He was director the Law of War program at West Point and was a Marine Corps judge advocate and military judge. Thank you, Gary.
Prof. SOLIS: Thank you, Mike.