Senate Republicans defy Bush on terrorism trials
Washington, Sept 14: Defying President George W Bush, a group of Senate Republicans said they would press ahead with legislation to try foreign terrorism suspects that the White House said would stifle CIA intelligence-gathering.
Top Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday strongly denounced the White House's plan to try suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, which critics say could allow abusive interrogations and deprive suspects of basic rights.
''How many more times do we need to create legislation that's defective, that's going to confuse people, that's got not a snowball's chance in hell of passing Supreme Court muster?'' South Carolina Republican Sen Lindsey Graham said of Bush's proposal.
Bush, who has come under fire for harsh treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, needs Congress to approve a system to try suspects after the Supreme Court in June struck down his original plan.
The White House is backing legislation that would more narrowly define the Geneva Conventions' requirement for humane treatment of prisoners, arguing it is essential to protect CIA interrogators from prosecution.
Armed Services chairman John Warner of Virginia told reporters the committee is scheduled to vote today on a bill he crafted with Graham and Arizona Republican Sen John McCain to give suspects more rights than Bush's bill and maintain the Geneva Conventions' standards for humane treatment.
Warner said negotiations were continuing with the White House on a compromise bill that would avert a potentially ugly fight among Republicans when the legislation goes to the floor, possibly next week.
With support from Democrats and moderate Republicans, Warner, McCain and Graham could thwart efforts of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee to pass Bush's plan.
That would show up Republicans as divided on their self-proclaimed strong suit of national security just weeks ahead of November elections that will determine control of Congress.
The White House increased pressure on the senators to back off, telling them CIA operations would fail under their bill.
Graham dismissed that, asking if the United States was going to be ''the first country in the world that changes the Geneva Conventions so that secret police programs of those nations would be okay?'' McCain, who was tortured as a war prisoner in Vietnam, said the effect would be to weaken the Geneva Conventions' protections, which he said would backfire on US personnel in future wars.
But fellow Republican Sen John Cornyn of Texas, a leading supporter of Bush's bill, said it was essential to ''provide a clear legal standard as to what does and does not constitute a war crime in a way that removes that burden from our intelligence officials.'' Without that, he said the CIA would be unable to use aggressive techniques that get good intelligence.
The House of Representatives Armed Services Committee passed a bill 52-8 that largely mirrored Bush's bill.
The committee first defeated on party lines a bill pushed by Democrats based on the Warner-McCain-Graham bill. With the House's tight rules that favor the majority, Republicans were expected to push the measure through next week.