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Congress Adjusts to Detainee Deal


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

More Republican lawmakers today threw their support behind yesterday's deal on detainees and interrogations. The White House and three key Republican senators reached a compromise under which detainees will be allowed to see at least summaries of the evidence presented against them in military tribunals and Congress agreed to give people who use coercive interrogation tactics some legal immunity.

What had been a two-week-long battle among Republicans over the detainee legislation may soon become a more partisan showdown. Today some key Congressional Democrats expressed deep concerns over parts of the deal.

More from NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: When top Republican lawmakers went to the microphones here at the Capitol yesterday to endorse the detainee rules compromise, there was one who clearly was not on board yet. House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter objected to a provision that barred the use of secret evidence without allowing the accused to see it. But today Hunter dropped that objection and called a news conference to announce he backs the deal.

Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): When my attorneys went through this and said this is excellent, I said read it again. Let's go through it line by line. I then called up the head of the CIA and I said do you read this the same way we read it, and I described our take on this. And he said yes, I do. It gives them the protections that they need.

Representative JANE HARMON: (Democrat, California): If the deal is what it sounds like it is, it has a lot of good in it. What concerns me is whether or not Congress will exercise real oversight.

WELNA: That's California's Jane Harmon, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. She says Congress should insist that any interrogation techniques protected by the deal be disclosed and justified to the intelligence committees. Harmon admits it may require some courage for lawmakers to insist on such provisions.

Representative HARMON: This is a time to measure Congress. If we don't stand up, shame on us. It's election season. It's critical, I think, to tell the American people - I want to tell the American people - that we will do everything necessary to keep them safe. But I also want to tell the American people that we won't abandon our core values and our Constitution in the effort.

WELNA: That same refrain has often been heard from Republican John McCain, who led the rebellion in the Senate against the White House's version of the detainee rules.

But Morton Sklar, who heads the anti-torture group World Human Rights USA, says McCain appears to have given in to the White House to make a deal.

Mr. MORTON SKLAR (World Human Rights USA): I think there was a lot of pressure on him because of his presidential aspirations to come to some compromise with President Bush. And I think the other Republican senators had similar motives in terms of trying to get rid of these problems before the elections took place.

WELNA: Sklar thinks the deal struck yesterday undermines the Geneva Conventions by providing immunity to interrogators who use methods unacceptable to that international treaty.

But Michigan Democrat Carl Levin thinks his Republican colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee actually did well striking the deal.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): Senators Warner, McCain and Graham really did an admirable job on this one of standing up to the administration. And there is a compromise bill here that, while it's got a number of problems, is really a substantial improvement over the administration's original language.

WELNA: But Levin's not ready to endorse the deal. He says it still has provisions that make it unacceptable.

Senator LEVIN: It's wrong for the president to try to assert the power in the CIA to go beyond what is allowed under our Constitution, what is allowed to the Army when it captures people. What it allows is it's going to do under this deal, for statements which are obtained before December 30, 2005 to be used in a criminal trial although they were obtained through cruel, unusual or inhumane treatment. It seems to me it really is not helpful at all to our own security because of the propaganda club that it hands to our enemy.

WELNA: Levin warned that allowing such coerced evidence could also set a precedent for other nations to follow similar practices with captured American forces. He and others in the Senate also object to the detainee legislation removing any right for a prisoner to challenge his or her detention or allege mistreatment in court. They hope to offer amendments when the bill reaches the Senate floor to change those provisions.

Much remains to be done for the bill to become law, with Congress due to remain in session only through next week before leaving for the midterm campaign season. House Republican Hunter says he's confident a week is enough.

Representative HUNTER: We're going to get this thing across the finish line. I think that's going to happen.

WELNA: House Democrat Harmon says lawmakers will try to get it done next week, but -

Representative HARMON: If we don't, we'll get there when we get there.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.