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Deal on detainee treatment quells GOP revolt

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House and dissenting GOP senators settled a disagreement Thursday on a bill setting out procedures for interrogating terror suspects and trying them in front of military tribunals.

The deal, reached after three days of intense intra-party negotiations, satisfied the concerns of three Republicans on how the measure would affect U.S. compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

While the agreement does not redefine the Geneva Conventions, as the White House originally proposed, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said it would provide enough "clarity" to allow the CIA's interrogation program to go forward.

The White House backed off an effort to define language in the conventions barring "humiliating treatment and outrages upon personal dignity."

In another concession, detainees prosecuted by military commissions in some cases would be allowed to see classified information used against them. And the deal puts limits on prosecutors' ability to use statements made by detainees under coercion.

But the agreement explicitly gives the president "the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions."

President Bush hailed the agreement, saying it will preserve the "most potent tool we have" in the war against terror -- the ability of the CIA to interrogate detainees and "get their secrets."

"The agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do -- to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists and then to try them," said Bush. (Watch Bush hail agreement -- 1:31)

Thursday's agreement ends a potentially embarrassing political standoff on a measure Bush has described as his top legislative priority.

At a news conference where the compromise was announced, senators and administration officials did not detail the new language on the Geneva Conventions.

But Sen. John McCain, one of the senators who objected to the original bill, said "there is no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved." (Watch McCain laud deal with White House -- 1:13)

McCain and two other Republicans -- Sens. John Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- had objected to the administration's attempt to define the Geneva Conventions' language.

They argued that it could open the door for other countries to define their standards of treatment for captured Americans, which could put them in danger. Warner is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Bush had threatened to pull the plug on the CIA program unless language was included in the bill to give interrogators guidance on what was and wasn't acceptable.

'Grave' breaches detailed

Instead of redefining the language of the Geneva Conventions, the compromise instead codifies into federal criminal law a list of actions considered to be "grave" breaches.

The president would be able to prohibit, by executive order, actions that are considered less than grave.

Grave breaches would include torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, biological experiments, murder, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse and taking hostages.

The bill also expands legal protection for CIA agents, military personnel and U.S. government employees by prohibiting detainees from invoking the Geneva Conventions in court.

GOP senators and White House officials said they also reached an agreement on two other major sticking points -- detainee access to classified information and the use of coerced statements in trials.

The agreement says that statements made by detainees under coercion would be allowed as evidence if the presiding judge determined they were reliable.

But statements taken since the Detainee Treatment Act went into effect in 2005 would only be allowed if they were obtained without violating that act.

The administration had argued that military prosecutors should be allowed to use classified information as evidence, without allowing detainees to see it, in order to protect national security.

Under the compromise, detainees would have no right to see classified information during discovery. They would get access only if prosecutors decide to use it at trial, and, if the judge approves, prosecutors would be able to redact portions or provide summaries.

"You can protect classified information, but you have to have some form of confrontation, and we struck a great balance," said Graham, a reserve judge on the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.

Possible sticking point

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, who attended the Senate news conference, indicated that the language on use of classified information may be a sticking point with the House, which passed the version proposed by the White House.

However, the California Republican expressed optimism that those differences could be resolved.

"I think we're very close, and I think we're going to be able to get a bill very quickly," Hunter said.

With a compromise reached, the measure will have to be approved by the full Senate, then go back to the House for its consideration.

Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader, said he hoped to get a final bill approved before members of Congress head home at the end of next week to campaign for the midterm elections.

"That means you're going to see a lot of working around the clock between now and the next two to three to four days," he said.

The negotiations come after McCain, Warner and Graham defied Bush last week and voted against White House-backed legislation aimed at "clarifying" what U.S. law considers the acceptable treatment of prisoners under Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

Article 3 prohibits nations engaged in combat from "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture" and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

In a June decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the administration must meet the Article 3 standards in its treatment of detainees.

Bush said earlier this month that 14 suspected al Qaeda leaders had been held by the CIA in secret facilities overseas and subjected to "alternative" interrogation techniques he said were tough but did not violate U.S. laws barring torture.


Sen. John McCain said the deal "gives the president the tools that he needs."


Agreement at a glance

-- Requires that a defendant being tried by military commission have access to any evidence given to a jury.

-- Drops a section of the administration's previous proposal that stated an existing ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment satisfies the nation's obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

-- Prohibits "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. Defines grave breaches as acts such as torture, rape, biological experiments and cruel and inhuman treatment.

-- Notes the president has the authority to interpret "the meaning and application" of the Geneva Conventions.

-- Allows hearsay evidence.

-- Allows coerced testimony if the statement was acquired before a 2005 ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and a judge finds it to be reliable. Bans coerced statements taken after the 2005 ban went into effect if it violates constitutional definitions of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

-- Bars individuals from protesting violations of Geneva Conventions standards in court.

The Associated Press

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