Senate OKs rules for handling of captives

Bush administration opposes measure

October 06, 2005|By RICHARD SIMON | RICHARD SIMON,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- In a break with the White House, the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure yesterday that would set standards for the military's treatment of detainees, a response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and other allegations that U.S. soldiers had abused prisoners.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a victim of torture while a prisoner during the Vietnam War, won approval of the measure that would make interrogation techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual the standard for handling detainees in Defense Department custody and prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of U.S.-held prisoners.

The White House has threatened to veto the defense spending bill to which the measure was attached, and Vice President Dick Cheney has lobbied to defeat the detainee measure. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the measure would "limit the president's ability as commander-in-chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism."

But McCain struck an emotional chord with his colleagues as he recalled his more than five years in a POW camp.

"Our enemies didn't adhere to the Geneva Convention," he said, referring to the international agreement on the treatment of prisoners of war. "Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death.

"But every one of us - every single one of us - knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them."

A move is expected to be made to drop the provision during House-Senate negotiations to reconcile differences on the spending bill. But McCain said the 90-9 Senate vote in support of the measure should improve its chances.

All but nine of the Senate's 55 Republicans joined 43 Democrats and one independent in supporting the measure, the latest sign of how even some of President Bush's usually reliable GOP allies in Congress are challenging the administration more. At least three Republicans, for example, have expressed reservations about the president's nomination of White House counsel Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court. And some Senate Republicans are fighting with the administration over how much to expand Medicaid coverage for hurricane victims.

The measure was offered in response to the photographs of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad, Iraq, that caused an international furor last year. More allegations of mistreatment of detainees have surfaced recently.

McCain said that the Abu Ghraib scandal and continuing allegations of prisoner abuse are "harming our image in the world, terribly." He added that ambiguity on prisoner treatment could lead to mistreatment of captured American soldiers. "Confusion about the rules results in abuses in the field," he said.

Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican who opposed McCain's proposal, said, "This is a different war now. ... We're in a war against terrorists, and I don't think they're entitled to the same type of treatment that we give to prisoners of war."

Richard Simon writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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