President Bush may veto amendment that bans detainee mistreatment

Saturday, October 8, 2005

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This audio file was created from the text revision dated 2005-10-09 and may not reflect subsequent text edits to this report. (audio help)

The first veto of United States President George W. Bush's presidency may be used to block an amendment that bans torture and mistreatment of detainees, proposed by two Republican senators. The White House sent a "statement of administration policy" to the Senate declaring strong opposition to the legislation, alleging that it would tie the nation's hands in the "War on Terrorism". The statement said that if the bill's final version contained the anti-torture terms, then "the president's senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."

The amendment, an addition to the $440 billion dollar military spending bill, proposed by senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, would establish the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees and secondly prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of persons detained by the U.S. government.[1]

The legislation comes in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal and allegations of Human Rights Watch, which, in a recent report, accused soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division of "systematically torturing Iraqi detainees". The report was critizised by a Department of Defense spokesman as using "distortions and errors in fact."

The amendment received 90 votes in support, and 9 votes against in the Senate. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as 28 other retired senior military officers, also endorsed it.

General Powell said in a letter to McCain: "Our troops need to hear from the Congress, which has an obligation to speak to such matters. I also believe the world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers." Powell said the Senate action "will help deal with the terrible public diplomacy crisis created by Abu Ghraib."

McCain, a one-time P.O.W. during his military service in the Vietnam War, said after the vote that the White House should not be working against him on this issue: "We think it would be very helpful because it would send a message to the world that the United States of America does not engage in torture. We will not treat people inhumanely. We will adhere to treaties that we are signatories to, and the men and women who do the interrogating will have clear instructions as to how to conduct interrogations."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who later voted for the bill, and White House lobbyists led the unsuccessful opposition to the amendment and senator Ted Stevens had argued that the amendment would prevent "our people from taking the leadership. (sic)"