Senate panel defies Bush on terror
By ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - A rebellious Senate committee defied
Bush on Thursday and approved terror-detainee legislation he has
vowed to block, deepening Republican conflict over terrorism and national
security in the middle of election season.
Republican Sen. John Warner (news,
record) of Virginia, normally a Bush supporter, pushed the measure through
his Armed Services Committee by a 15-9 vote, with Warner and three other GOP
lawmakers joining Democrats. The vote set the stage for a showdown on the Senate
floor as early as next week.
Earlier in the day, Bush had journeyed to the Capitol to try nailing down
support for his own version of the legislation.
"I will resist any bill that does not enable this program to go forward with
legal clarity," Bush said at the White House.
The president's measure would go further than ...
the Senate package in allowing classified evidence to be withheld from
defendants in terror trials, using coerced testimony and protecting U.S.
interrogators against prosecution for using methods that violate the Geneva
The internal GOP struggle intensified along other fronts, too, as
Powell, Bush's first secretary of state, declared his opposition to
the president's plan.
"The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against
terrorism," Powell, a retired general who is also a former chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a letter.
Powell said that Bush's bill, by redefining the kind of treatment the Geneva
Conventions allow, "would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own
troops at risk."
Firing back, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Powell was confused about
the White House plan. Later, Snow said he probably shouldn't have used that
"I know that Colin Powell wants to beat the terrorists too," he said.
Countering Powell's letter, the administration produced one from the current
secretary of state to Warner. In it,
Rice wrote that narrowing the standards for detainee treatment as
Bush has proposed "would add meaningful definition and clarification to vague
terms in the treaties."
In the committee vote, Warner was supported by GOP Sens. John McCain of
Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine. Warner,
McCain and Graham had been the most active senators opposing Bush's plan. The
vote by the moderate Collins underscored that there might be broad enough GOP
support to successfully take on Bush on the floor of the Republican-run
As the battle mushrooms, it threatens to undermine campaign season assertions
by the administration that it has shown a steady hand on security matters and
that Republicans should be trusted over Democrats on such issues.
Amplifying Bush's threat to block the committee's plan, White House spokesman
Snow said, "The president will not accept something that shuts the program down"
for interrogating detainees. His comments came a day after National Intelligence
Director John Negroponte told reporters that the Senate plan would be likely to
interrogation and detention program.
Bush still has many congressional allies, including House and Senate leaders
and conservatives who want to align themselves with the president's tough stance
on interrogation and prosecution.
McCain, a leader on the issue of treatment of detainees, spent more than five
years as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Last year, he overcame Bush's
objections to pass legislation banning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of
Leaving his closed-door meeting with the House GOP caucus, Bush said he would
"continue to work with members of the Congress to get good legislation." He
complimented a House bill but did not mention the Senate version.
"I reminded them that the most important job of government is to protect the
homeland," he said. Bush was accompanied by Vice President
Cheney and White House political adviser Karl Rove.
The White House also released a letter to lawmakers signed by the military's
top uniformed lawyers. Saying they wanted to clarify past testimony on Capitol
Hill in which they opposed the administration's plan, the lawyers wrote that
they "do not object" to sections of Bush's proposal for the treatment of
Two congressional aides who favor McCain's plan said the military lawyers
signed that letter after refusing to endorse an earlier one offered by the
general counsel, William Haynes, that expressed more forceful support for Bush's
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to
discuss the matter publicly. Asked if Haynes had encouraged them to write the
letter, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, "Not that I'm aware of."
Another bill Bush is pushing would give legal status to the administration's
warrantless wiretapping program. It was approved on a party-line vote by the
Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but is stalled in the House amid
opposition from Democrats and some Republicans concerned that the program
violates civil liberties.